The following is cross-posted at BeliefNet’s Progressive Revival.

October has been a good month for religious pluralism in America. Not great, but good. This past Sunday on Meet the Press former Secretary of State Collin Powell condemned the religious bigotry that has emerged during the campaign, saying:

“I’m also troubled by, not what Senator McCain says, but what members of the party say. And it is permitted to be said such things as, ‘Well, you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim.’ Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim, he’s a Christian.  He’s always been a Christian.  But the really right answer is, what if he is?  Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer’s no, that’s not America.”

Congratulations to Secretary Powell for his willingness to challenge those on the right who use the Muslim community as their punching bag, and to those on the left who seem less than enthusiastic about speaking in their defense.

Thankfully, Secretary Powell is not alone. His comments echo a commentary CNN anchor Campbell Brown delivered on her program earlier this month entitled “So what if Obama were a Muslim or an Arab?” In it she asks:

“When did that become a disqualifier for higher office in our country? When did Arab and Muslim become dirty words? The equivalent of dishonorable or radical?”

Alongside these great statements by Powell and Campbell is the continued distribution of 28 million copies of the movie Obsession. This film, despite what its makers tell us, is a pervasive demonization of Islam.

I have been happy to see a broad range of people from across the religious and political spectrum speak out against both Obsession, and the false rumors about Senator Obama’s religious background. But, I remain concerned about the staggering number of people who are choosing to stay silent. Now is the time for all fair-minded, freedom-loving people to condemn the poisonous onslaught of religious prejudice.

Religious freedom is a founding principle of this nation. Basic to American identity as envisioned by our founders is every citizen modeling not merely tolerance, but respect and understanding. Right now it is particularly crucial that political leaders – on both sides of the isle – not only pay lip service to religious freedom, but embody it.

October has been a good month for religious pluralism in America. Not great, but good. What would make it better would be if a presidential candidate, asked about being a Muslim, were to respond by saying, “I am not a Muslim, but so many patriotic Americans are.” What would make it exemplary would be if a presidential candidate whose allies seek to use religion as a political weapon were to put a stop to such divisive tactics. What would make it terrific – and most patriotic –would be if faith were not a factor in presidential politics. Period.

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