This week, we celebrate the Fourth of July, Independence Day for the United States. I can recall the July 4th celebrations of my youth , watching the fireworks in my hometown of Lockport, N.Y., and thinking -- even at a young age -- about the ideals that shaped this country, especially freedom of religion.
You see, as a young Catholic, I learned that people of my faith tradition were not always welcomed by those who came before us. We came from strange ethnic groups like Irish, German, Polish or Italian, and the dominant Anglo-Protestant culture was often fearful of us. We practiced a religion which fought wars against Protestant powers in Europe. Our services used a strange language -- Latin -- and we claimed allegiance to what many saw as a foreign power: the Vatican. And Irish Catholic immigrants in particular were blamed for spreading violence and drunkenness.
Sound familiar? Muslims are in a similar position today ... most coming from ethnic groups that are not highly represented in the United States today, like Pakistanis, Turks, Syrians and Iraqis. They practice a religion not well understood by the average American: Islam. They worship in mosques, not churches. Muslims fought wars with Christians for centuries. Their prayers are in a strange language: Arabic. Some believe they claim allegiance to a foreign power. And many believe they are dangerous!
Yes, individual Muslims have committed horrific and violent crimes in places like San Bernardino, Calif., and Orlando, Fla. But these were specific people who were attracted to a warped version of Islam. When people equate those who perpetrated such attacks with all Muslims, it is bigotry pure and simple.
And unfortunately, this anti-Muslim bigotry has reached the campaign trail. Recently, the presumptive Republican nominee for president, Donald Trump, suggested that we need to "profile American Muslims." On CBS's "Face the Nation," he said, "We really have to look at profiling. ... [I]t's not the worst thing to do."
Well, it's just about the worst thing. It's discrimination pure and simple.
When Trump talks like this about a religious group, I am left to wonder: Has he ever read the First Amendment to the Constitution? Specifically, the clause about freedom of religion -- and the free exercise thereof. Singling out and profiling a religious group is directly contrary to the spirit and letter of that amendment and to every value we hold dear in this country. It was wrong when the target was 19th-century Catholics; it is wrong with 21st -century Muslims today.
The Fourth of July is a special day to remember core American values, one of which is religious freedom and respect for each other's beliefs, including those who claim no belief in God. But more than that, we are enriched by our diversity of beliefs and practices. Think of it as the beauty woven into the American tapestry of freedom. Those of all belief systems, religious or non-religious, deserve equal respect. That is America at its best. And a blessed Independence Day to everyone!