Leaders of the Maine Council of Churches, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, the Episcopal Diocese of Maine and the Maine Conference of the United Church of Christ joined Thursday, Sept. 9, with the Center for Preventing Hate in making the following statement:

America is a place where Jews, Christians, Muslims and those of other faiths work, go to school and form friendships together, but worship separately, according to their different religious traditions. We are proud of our country’s religious diversity and our culture of civility and respect toward those who are different.

Recently, however, that precious heritage has been seriously strained. Intolerance and prejudice against Islam, one of the world’s great religions, has grown to alarming levels in the United States in recent years. We deplore the recent rise in anti-Muslim discrimination, intimidation and violence. We are deeply concerned about the growing anti-Muslim rhetoric in our nation’s political life and by some Christians.

We are appalled and saddened by the planned burning of Qu’rans by the Dove World Outreach Center in Florida. Such actions are contrary to both the Christian gospel and the values of religious freedom and tolerance on which our nation was founded. America is a better place than this.

Americans of every religion share the grief for the lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001. People of all faiths lost loved ones that day. Police, firefighters and emergency medical personnel of all faiths ran to the Twin Towers to help, including Muslim Americans.

We believe we honor the memories of those lost on Sept. 11 best when we pursue lives of peace, justice and mercy toward all our neighbors.

We wish to send a message to our Muslim neighbors and friends here in Maine and across the world: those who spread negative stereotypes, discriminate against Muslims and engage in acts of violence against the Qu’ran by no means represent all Christians. They do not speak for the gospel of love, mercy and justice that we know and cherish.

We are enriched here in Maine by the growing religious and ethnic diversity of our state. Our faith journeys are deepened by peaceful, mutually respectful dialogue.

We can reclaim our place as a country where people of all faiths can sit down together to learn from each other. We can reclaim our values of civil discourse and religious tolerance. We can resist temptations to violence rooted in fear and misunderstanding. But we will only succeed if each of us is committed to treating those who are different from us in the same way we would want to be treated by them.

We urge our fellow Christians, and all Mainers, to mark the anniversary of Sept. 11 by joining us in this commitment. Only then we will retain the freedoms we cherish and achieve the peace we crave for our world.