The chief justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court assured Muslims at New England's largest mosque Friday that the state's justice system would protect their rights amid a wave of anti-Muslim sentiment sweeping the country.
Chief Justice Ralph Gants, in an extraordinary appearance at the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center following the midday prayer service, told hundreds of worshipers he had asked mosque leaders if he could speak because he knew it was a difficult time for American Muslims.
"I am here to assure you that you do not stand alone," he said, to applause. "You have a constitution and laws to protect your right to practice your religion, to protect you from discrimination . . . and to protect you from acts of violence that may be committed against you because of your religion or your nation of origin."
Gants joins a growing contingent of prominent religious and civic figures who have lent public support to Boston's Muslim community at a time when the rise of the Islamic State group and terrorist attacks abroad by their collaborators and sympathizers have stoked anti-Muslim fervor.
Earlier this month, Boston Police Commissioner William B. Evans and several interfaith leaders addressed the Roxbury mosque following Friday prayers. The Massachusetts Board of Rabbis has denounced the demonization of Muslims and stood alongside a broad swath of the interfaith community in opposing calls to halt acceptance of Syrian refugees. And on Thursday, Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley published a piece in the archdiocesan newspaper urging Catholics to reject group hatred and "walk boldly in the path of the Good Samaritan."
Gants told the congregation that the Declaration of Rights in the Massachusetts Constitution was designed to protect the rights of the minority.
"We in our judiciary recognize our obligation to enforce those rights where they are abridged, regardless of whether it is popular to do so, sometimes knowing it will not be popular to do so," he said.
As a Jew, he added, his own people were "strangers in the land of Egypt" in ancient times, as well as unwelcome newcomers to America more recently. Wave after wave of immigrants and enslaved people, he said, were vilified and ostracized at various points in American history.
"If you add up all of those who are Irish-Americans, Italian-Americans, German-Americans, Mexican-Americans, Asian-Americans, African-Americans, Jewish-Americans — all those who were once strangers in this land of Egypt — you end up with the vast majority of this nation," he said. "So I hold firm in the hope that if we remember . . . that we, too, once were strangers in the land of Egypt, the vast majority of Americans will stand arm-in-arm with Muslim Americans, and together we will get past these troubling times."
Zainab Elmi, who immigrated to the United States from Somalia 15 years ago and lives in Somerville, called his talk "wonderful."
"It was reassurance that we all are one community," she said.
Lisa Wangsness can be reached at email@example.com.