Lawmakers Introduce Bill Making it Illegal to Ban Any Alien Based on ‘Religious Litmus Tests’​

By Patrick Goodenough
May 12, 2016 | 2:12 AM EDT

Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.) addresses a press conference on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, May 11, 2016, announcing the Freedom of Religion Act. (Screengrab: YouTube)

( – A group of Democratic lawmakers, joined by religious leaders of various faiths, have announced a bill that would make it illegal to deny entry to the United States of any alien on the basis of religion.

Sponsored by Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) and co-sponsored by scores of lawmakers, the vast majority Democrats, the bill comprises a single short sentence: “An alien may not be denied admission to the United States because of the alien’s religion or lack of religious beliefs.”

Although the text does not further define the alien in question, Beyer’s office said in a statement that the bill – which he’s calling the Freedom of Religion Act – aims “to prohibit the use of religious litmus tests as a means to ban immigrants, refugees, and international visitors trying to enter the United States.”

At a Capitol Hill press conference announcing the initiative, Donald Trump came up frequently – although mostly not by name – as lawmakers and religious figures linked the bill to the GOP presidential candidate’s call last December for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the U.S. due to terrorism concerns.

“We are here to build bridges, not to build walls,” said Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) national executive director Nihad Awad. “And Donald Trump has diminished the hopes of many people in America, especially those who live outside.”

Awad expressed the hope that in the election “in November, hope and faith will defeat fear.”

“It will only happen if we all work together to make sure that America is still open, and welcoming to refugees, to the needy.”

Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.) recalled being asked by a Muslim child during a visit to a mosque in his Queens district “why does my country hate my religion?”

“When their candidate for president of the United States, their standard-bearer, calls for a ban on an entire religion from entering out country, this is what happens – children ask if the United States of America hates their religion,” he said.

Crowley said critics would likely accuse those supporting the initiative of “pandering to minorities” and of “being too PC.”

“But you know what we’re being? We’re being Americans.”

Rep. André Carson (D-Ind.) said that as one of two Muslims in Congress –Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) is the other – he knows what it means to be attacked for his religion.

“But what’s really troubling is that these men are running on a platform that is contrary to what this country was founded on.”

Carson went on to say the Muslim ban proposal was an attack on the First Amendment, on the Constitution, and of the work of the Founders who “ensured that America would be a society of religious expression.”

Rep. JanSchakowsky (D-Ill.) said the bill has been introduced “because the presumed nominee for the president of the United States of the Republican Party has made it clear that – and he’s said it repeatedly – that if elected president he would ban Muslims from entering this country.”

It was “astonishing,” she continued, “that that would come out of the mouth of someone who aspires to be president of the United States.”

According to Beyer’s office, more than 70 Democratic members of the House have signed onto the bill as co-sponsors, along with a sole Republican, Rep. Richard Hanna of New York.

More than 30 religious groups, Christian, Muslim and Jewish, have also thrown their support behind the legislation, along with dozens of other groups including the American Civil Liberties Union, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, National Immigration Forum, Southern Poverty Law Center and the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants.