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Dem Senator to lead hearing on Muslim civil rights

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Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.) announced Tuesday that he will hold Congress' first-ever hearing on the civil rights of American Muslims next week. The hearing comes a little more than two weeks after a Republican in Congress made headlines by holding a controversial hearing on the radicalization of Muslim Americans.

The release announcing the hearing said it is in response to the "pike in anti-Muslim bigotry in the last year including Quran burnings, restrictions on mosque construction, hate crimes, hate speech, and other forms of discrimination."

"Our Constitution protects the free exercise of religion for all Americans," Durbin said. "During the course of our history, many religions have faced intolerance. It is important for our generation to renew our founding charter's commitment to religious diversity and to protect the liberties guaranteed by our Bill of Rights."

The panel of witnesses scheduled to testify at the hearing include Muslim civil rights leader Farhana Khera; Catholic Cardinal Theodore McCarrick; Assistant Attorney General Tom Perez, the Obama Administration's top civil rights official; and former Assistant Attorney General Alex Acosta, the Bush Administration's top civil rights official.

Durbin will lead the hearing next Tuesday in the subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights, which is part of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Earlier this month, Republican Rep. Peter King (N.Y.) received an onslaught of criticism for leading a hearing in the House Homeland Security Committee on the radicalization of American Muslims. Critics said he was unfairly targeting Muslims, even though non-Muslims have committed acts of terrorism in the U.S. as well.

Democratic Rep. Keith Ellison, one of two Muslims in Congress, accused King of "ascribing the evil acts of a few individuals to an entire community" and said the hearings could make the country less safe.

King said that he believes "the overwhelming majority of Muslim Americans are outstanding Americans and make enormous contributions to our country" - but added that "there are realities we cannot ignore" about the threat of radicalization.

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