With every act of violence in the U.S., whether at a church, a military recruiting station, or a movie theatre, we revisit the possibility of yet another incident, carried out by armed, sometimes unstable or radicalized individuals, whose goal is to murder large numbers of people in public places. That fear is exacerbated by daily news of murderous acts by Islamic State, al Qaeda, and other groups that are trying to recruit followers across the globe, including from our own communities.

One of the latest manifestations of fear of such violence is the creation of “Muslim-free zones” by business owners in several states, including Kentucky, Florida, Arkansas, and New Hampshire. One gun store owner in New York marked his shop a “Muslim-Free Gun Store.”

In defense of his decision, he told WNYT of Albany, New York: “My Facebook post, I thought about this and said well, there’s only one organization that is advocating for the killing of Americans, trying to get local homegrown terrorists, and somewhat succeeding. They’re not Canadians. They’re not French. They’re Muslims.

The creation of “Muslim-free Zones,” and the rhetoric of fear that accompanies them, clearly stereotypes and punishes all Muslims on the basis of actions of a very small minority of the Muslim population.

As Presbyterians, we have consistently affirmed the provision of the 1964 Civil Rights Act that makes it a crime for any place of “public accommodation” to deny service to anyone based on religion, race, color, or national origin; moreover, with respect to our relationships with people of other faiths, we have made every effort to nurture our relations with Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, and others whose faith traditions are not our own.

We stand with the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) in calling on the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate these growing manifestations of racism and fear and assure our Muslim friends and colleagues of our solidarity with them as together we face this challenge of anti-Islamic behavior.