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p class=”western” align=”left”>washington1By LAUREN MARKOE


© 2015 Religion News Service

WASHINGTON — Amid rising rhetoric and crimes against American Muslims in the wake of recent terror attacks, the White House on Thursday (Dec. 17) broadcast a counter message about religious pluralism.

There are no second-class faiths in the U.S.A.,” Melissa Rogers, head of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, said at a forum on American religious pluralism in a building next to the White House.

But lately, some Americans have been eager to showcase their anti-Muslim attitudes.

After terror attacks committed by Muslims in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif., GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump called for a ban on Muslims entering the U.S. Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson has said he would not vote for a Muslim for president. Mosques have suffered a spate of vandalism.

Rogers opened the White House forum, “Celebrating and Protecting America’s Tradition of Religious Pluralism,” calling for Americans of different religious faiths to strive for more than tolerance.

Pluralism is about participation and engagement with one another across our differences, not simply co-existing beside one another,” she said, paraphrasing Harvard University religion professor Diana Eck, who runs the Pluralism Project.

Neither does pluralism mean a homogenization of religious beliefs, Rogers continued. Rather, it asks us “bring our various particularities and beliefs to the table of conversation.”

The forum highlighted the increasing diversity of the nation’s religious landscape. About two-thirds of senior citizens are white and Christian, as opposed to 3 in 10 of Americans under 30, Robert Jones, CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute, pointed out to the gathering. “That’s a really big sea change,” he said.

The White House invited secularists to the event, making the point that people who have no religious affiliation are a fast-growing group, and now account for about 1 in 5 Americans.

Naim Baig, president of the Islamic Circle of North America, who had been invited to the forum but was unable to attend, said he appreciated any effort to counter religious bigotry.

I can’t imagine any other place in the world where you see such a beautiful representation of faith,” he said of the United States. But “people who are spreading hatred need to be called ‘haters,’” he continued.

Today people are targeting Muslims, “tomorrow it may be someone else.”