Crossing the Ravenel Bridge, you can’t help but notice it. Whether you’re driving, cycling, or walking, its gray hull rises from the shallows and catches your eye. It’s stuck there in the mud, I am told, and won’t be going anywhere. The USS Yorktown is a permanent part of the Charleston scene.
When I first saw the boat, it reminded me of the stories I read growing up. I thought of the heroism of sailors, the epic battles of the Pacific, and the distances the Yorktown had traveled before coming to rest here in the Lowcountry. Our family took the tour, descending deep into the engine room, then climbing out onto the deck to brave the wind for the best views of our city. For years I have looked at the Yorktown when crossing the bridge and thought of how she held up against the vast expanse of ocean. Yet now I have come to look at her in a different way.
It was on the deck of the Yorktown that Donald Trump stood in 2015 and called for a ban on Muslim people entering the United States. I had never heard such religious bigotry from a candidate, and, like many, I was deeply offended that Mr. Trump used Charleston as his backdrop when he made his discriminatory proposal. Our Republican Senator Lindsey Graham felt the same way, going on record to apologize. “To all of our Muslim friends throughout the world,” he said, “I am sorry. He does not represent us.” I was glad that Senator Graham stood up for the American principle of freedom of religion. One of the things that actually does make this country great is the fact that everyone is free to practice the religion of his or her choice or not to practice religion at all. There is no religious test for office, citizenship, or entrance to the United States. All are welcome here.
Mr. Trump maintains that singling out one religion for profiling and discrimination is an acceptable thing to do since a few adherents of that religion have committed acts of terrorism. The truth is that a few adherents of every religion have done the same. We in Charleston suffered a terrorist attack the same year that Mr. Trump stood on deck and blamed Muslims. Yet we were attacked by a Lutheran from the midlands, not a Muslim from another country. It’s funny how no one called for a ban on Christians after that. It’s difficult not to think of these things when looking at the Yorktown because Mr. Trump will soon be president. When asked if he stood by his Muslim comments last month, including his idea that all Muslims should be added to a government registry, Mr. Trump doubled down and said, “You know my plans.”
I’m afraid we do know his plans. The president-elect aims to demonize certain groups of people and divide us from each other. We should remember this every time we look at the Yorktown, and we should commit ourselves to standing up for the rights of every citizen — Muslim, Christian, Jew, Buddhist, Hindu, or humanist. This country belongs to all of us, our diversity is our strength, and we’re all in the same boat. I was reminded of this a few weeks ago when I attended an open house at the Central Mosque of Charleston. So many people came that members of the mosque were setting up folding chairs in the back throughout the program. We spent time getting to know each other that day, we shared stories and scriptures, we ate together, and we prayed for peace. No one called for a ban on anything. Except maybe the bigotry that has been used to divide us.
I’ll say a prayer for the president-elect this month, in the hope that he might spend a little time with his Constitution and his conscience. In the meantime, I invite us all to join Senator Graham in saying we are sorry for the religious discrimination that has been proposed. And I invite us all to stand and speak out against such discrimination. Let the Yorktown remind us every time we cross the bridge.