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In our opinion: Anti-Semitism is a cancer that must be uprooted

Violence in the name of religious hatred is particularly odious when it happens in the United States, because this nation is supposed to be the world's refuge for the religiously oppressed — a beacon for tolerance, freedom and liberty.

The nation's founders felt so strongly about this they made religious liberty — specifically, the prohibition of any law establishing an official religion or prohibiting the free exercise of religious belief — the very first right enumerated in the Bill of Rights.

The mass killing in a Pittsburgh Synagogue on Saturday was an unspeakable tragedy, the violation not only of a basic God-given right to worship, but a murderous repudiation of what it means to be an American.

It may have been the deadliest attack on a Jewish community in the nation's history, but it was not an isolated incident. The Anti-Defamation League published a report earlier this year that found anti-Semitic incidents rose 57 percent in 2017 over the previous year. The increase included reported incidents on college campuses and other schools, which is particularly troubling.

The nation's political leaders must speak clearly and unambiguously against such violence, articulating why religious liberty is a foundational American right, and why its violation is a crime not only against a particular group of adherents, but against all Americans.

“Americans should not need to hire security guards in order to exercise their First Amendment rights.”

Unfortunately, while President Trump hit some right notes in his initial reactions to the mass-murder, saying Americans must have "no tolerance for anti-Semitism" and lamenting hatred in the country, he veered off course when he said the synagogue should have had tighter security. Then, his familiar attacks on Democrats during a Saturday speech after the shooting were inappropriate for the nation's somber mood and did nothing to inspire or lift the nation.

Americans should not need to hire security guards in order to exercise their First Amendment rights, and political banter is at the heart of much of the rage that currently infests social media.

The alleged killer, 46-year-old Robert Bowers, reportedly frequented a social media site that caters to fringe conspiracy theories and hatred. He was heard to yell, "All Jews must die!" as he began to shoot.

Unfortunately, that is not a new sentiment. It was at the heart of Nazi Germany's ideological quest for world domination. It fuels constant attacks in the Middle East and elsewhere, just as irrational hatred fuels attacks against various Muslim sects, Christians and others around the globe.

As the Wall Street Journal noted Sunday, many of these oppressed adherents have sought refuge in the United States throughout history, relying on the Constitution to shield them as they exercise their beliefs.

The proper response to Saturday's tragedy is for Americans to mourn with the victims, sharing their grief and showering them with love, support and prayers. Then, they must follow that with a bipartisan, ecumenical and universal resolve to counter hate — its irrational conspiracy theories and unfounded ancient claims for redress — with love and good will wherever it is found.

Anti-Semitism is a cancer that must be uprooted, no matter how ingrained it is in the shadows. That cannot be done without a renewed understanding of why the United States was founded on religious liberty and why its place as a refuge for believers is so important for the world.