We Absolutely Need a Religious Test for Refugees

islamic state

President Barack Obama hit Republicans last week for suggesting the U.S. should favor Christian refugees over Muslims:

…[W]hen I hear political leaders suggesting that there would be a religious test for which a person who’s fleeing from a war-torn country is admitted, when some of those folks themselves come from families who benefitted from protection when they were fleeing political persecution — that’s shameful. That’s not American. That’s not who we are. We don’t have religious tests to our compassion.

But there are very good reasons to apply a religious test to Syrian refugees. The first is that some religious groups–Yazidis and Christian Arabs in particular–have been singled out for slaughter, slavery, and expulsion. Unlike Sunni and Shia Muslims, who theoretically have support from neighboring states, the Yazidis and Christians have no one to save them and nowhere to go.

As others have pointed out, U.S. law already asks applicants to prove they are victims of religious persecution. The appropriate solution for other people fleeing war-torn countries is to provide temporary shelter and humanitarian relief until the war is over.

The left has resorted to comparing the Syrian refugees to Jewish refugees fleeing Europe before the Holocaust. (I have debunked that analogy elsewhere.) But saving the Jews of Europe would have required applying a religious test. Jews alone were singled out for extermination. If the U.S. had agreed simply to accept a general group of refugees from Europe, including but not prioritizing Jews, that would have meant saving fewer Jews, by definition. (In fact, after the war, the U.S. prioritized Jewish refugees.)

Obama chose the term “religious test” because it comes from the Constitution, which prohibits a religious test for public office. But the Constitution does not prohibit a religious test for refugees–and, indeed, without it our policy would be less compassionate.

In the present crisis, we can and should prioritize Christian and Yazidi refugees, as well as Iraqis of all faiths who helped the U.S. during the war, whom the Obama administration shamefully abandoned. We could also admit Muslim refugees who can show that they qualify for that status due to religious persecution, and perhaps for other compelling reasons.

But simply to commit to taking in tens of thousands of people–more, once their families become eligible to immigrate–is a dubious policy, especially when the international community has done next to nothing to stop the war that remains the root cause of the ongoing Syrian exodus. The fact that terrorist organizations have clearly learned to take advantage of the refugee exodus is another reason to reconsider.

A religious test for refugees is not bigotry–and saying so merely poisons public debate, as President Obama, sadly, does so often.


Please let us know if you're having issues with commenting.