Department for the Study of Religion, University of Toronto
Statement on US Executive Order on Immigration
January 29, 2017

The United States Government has issued an executive order temporarily banning refugees and immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries, including refugees from Syria indefinitely. This order has also been applied to current US visa holders who are citizens of those countries.

The Department for the Study of Religion at the University of Toronto categorically condemns this action. It is an affront and a scandal to impose such a blanket policy on any country’s citizens, not least those fleeing war and persecution. This capricious act will increase international instability, emboldening those forces that seek to create division, fear and hatred. While there are many grounds on which this action could be criticized or condemned, we want to call particular attention to its implications for religion. By barring entry to citizens of these seven Muslim-majority countries, the US government enacts a de facto targeting of Muslims, raising serious concerns not only for the principles of religious freedom enshrined in the US constitution but also for the international community. The Department for the Study of Religion, in its mission to promote better public understanding of the diversity of religious life worldwide, stands firmly against this action.

While normally a department at a Canadian university would not comment on executive action being taken by the United States, this action also affects students, staff, and faculty at the University of Toronto. Some members of our community may now be forbidden from traveling to the US, adversely impacting their professional activities and, in some cases, family relationships. More generally, as a university community we value and depend on the free flow of people and their ideas, as expressed in the University of Toronto’s statement on the ban. This action thus offends the deepest professional values, mission, and identity that define us as an institution of higher learning. In this light, we also call on professional associations, including but not limited to, the Canadian Society for the Study of Religion, the Society of Biblical Literature, and the American Academy of Religion, to condemn this ban. We would expect that associations with conferences or meetings scheduled in the United States will consider changing locations or, at minimum, creating participatory opportunities for those who cannot, or do not want to, travel to the United States at this time. We also stand with these institutions as they continue to educate the North American and global public about Islam and other religions.

We affirm to our students and colleagues our intention to provide departmental support should they be directly affected by this order. Our community is actively reviewing the specific ways that this hostile policy affects our students and colleagues, and it commits to taking concrete actions to attempt to mitigate those harms. As we make progress on that front, we will update this response.

In the meantime, we urge caution for students, faculty and staff from the affected countries in making travel plans. As noted by the University in its statement: “Students travelling abroad with concerns should call the Safety Abroad Office directly 416-946-3929; in the case of an emergency, reach us at the 24-hour collect emergency line via Campus Police at 416-978-2222. International students on all three U of T campuses who have concerns or questions can reach staff at the Centre for International Experience at 416-978-2564 or email cie.information@utoronto.ca.” Faculty and staff are also encouraged to notify the University of their international travel plans and pursue caution when travelling to, or through, the United States.

Department for the Study of Religion, University of Toronto

Faculty who have read and support this statement include:
Ruth Marshall
Laura Beth Bugg
John W. Marshall
John S. Kloppenborg
Amira Mittermaier
Jennifer A Harris
J. Barton Scott
Kevin Lewis O’Neill
Karen Ruffle
Ajay Rao
Pamela Klassen
Frances Garrett
Walid A. Saleh
Nada Moumtaz
Judith Newman
Simon Coleman
Reid B. Locklin
Amanda Goodman
Kyle Smith
Srilata Ramen
Marsha Hewitt
Yigal S. Nizri
Shafique N. Virani
Sol Goldberg
Arti Dhand
Libbie Mills
Christoph Emmrich
David Perley
Michael Lambek
Stephen Scharper
Hilary Cunningham
Peter Richardson
Ann Jervis
Ken Derry
Michael Stoeber

Updated, 31 Jan 2017, 11:07am: Added Lambek, Scharper, Cunningham, and Richardson to list of faculty.
Updated, 31 Jan 2017, 02:52pm: Added Jervis and Derry to list of faculty.
Updated, 07 Feb 2016, 12:52pm: Added Stoeber to list of faculty.