Religious leaders, including Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori, have called on President Barack Obama and congressional leaders to reject a recent report by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights that faith groups are using religious freedom as a pretext for discrimination.

“We call upon each of you to renounce publicly the claim that ‘religious freedom’ and ‘religious liberty’ are ‘code words’ or a ‘pretext’ for various forms of discrimination,” the leaders say in the Oct. 7 letter, adding: “There should be no place in our government for such a low view of our First Freedom – the first of our civil rights – least of all from a body dedicated to protecting them all.”

The letter was addressed to Obama, House Speaker Paul Ryan, and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), the president pro tempore of the Senate, who are responsible for appointing members of the civil rights commission. It was signed by 17 people, including religious freedom experts and Catholic, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Baha’i, Mormon, African Methodist Episcopal, Southern Baptist and Evangelical leaders.

A 306-page report by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights issued Sept. 8 titled “Peaceful Coexistence: Reconciling Non-Discrimination Principles with Civil Liberties,” included the assertion that religious organizations sometimes “use the pretext of religious doctrines to discriminate.”

The letter’s signatories acknowledge that people of faith “can disagree about the relationship between religious liberty and anti-discrimination laws in our country, and how that relationship should best be structured. These questions have to do with issues critical to the common good such as marriage, the family, contraception, abortion and the source of human dignity.”

But they said that they found it “disturbing” that in the report, the civil rights commission’s chairman Martin Castro wrote, “The phrases ‘religious liberty’ and ‘religious freedom’ will stand for nothing except hypocrisy so long as they remain code words for discrimination, intolerance, racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, Christian supremacy or any form of intolerance.”

The letter said such language “stigmatizes tens of millions of religious Americans, their communities, and their faith-based institutions, and threatens the religious freedom of all our citizens.”

In addition to Lori, the chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the letter’s signers included Bishop Gérald J. Caussé, the presiding bishop of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; Sheikh Hamza Yusuf Hanson, the president of Zaytuna College in Berkeley, California, the first Muslim liberal arts college in the United States; and Leith Anderson, the president of the National Association of Evangelicals.

In his statement in the commission’s report, Castro also said, “Religious liberty was never intended to give one religion dominion over other religions, or a veto power over the civil rights and civil liberties of others. However, today as in the past, religion is being used as both a weapon and a shield by those seeking to deny others equality.”

Religious freedom concerns were at the heart of the recent case brought to the Supreme Court by the Little Sisters of the Poor and other religious groups against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Those groups contended that the Affordable Care Act would force them to violate their religious beliefs by requiring their employee health insurance plans to pay for coverage of abortion inducing drugs, contraceptives, and sterilization procedures.

Currently, Catholic hospitals and health care institutions have religious exemptions against making abortion referrals or being forced to provide abortions; and religious organizations that oppose same-sex marriages are not required to officiate at those weddings.

Some representatives of Catholic and other religious groups have expressed concern over the impact that the continuing erosion of religious freedom protections might have on their abilities to offer charitable, health care and educational ministries while remaining true to their faith’s teachings.

“We are one in demanding that no American citizen or institution be labeled by their government as bigoted because of their religious views, and dismissed from the political life of our nation for holding those views,” say the religious leaders and religious-freedom advocates. “And yet that is precisely what the Civil Rights Commission report does.”

In his 2015 pastoral letter, ‘Being Catholic Today: Catholic Identity in an Age of Challenge,’ Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington warned: “One new effort to abridge religious freedom is the legislation that would require Catholic schools to retain teachers who by their words or actions publicly contradict the teachings of the Church.”

The interfaith leaders’ letter stressed the importance of religious groups and people of faith, like all Americans, being free to join the debate in the public square involving laws and policies affecting the common good.

“Each of us opposes hateful rhetoric and actions. We believe in the equality of all Americans before the law, regardless of creed or community,” the letter said. It noted that some arguments put forth by religious groups have been “demonized” by government officials and others. The government should not “prejudice or distort” those concerns raised by religious groups, the letter said.

“Slandering ideas and arguments with which one disagrees as ‘racism’ or ‘phobia’ not only cheapens the meaning of those words, but can have a chilling effect on healthy debate over, or dissent from, the prevailing orthodoxy,” the leaders said. “Such attacks on dissent have no place in the United States, where all religious beliefs, the freedom to express them, and the freedom to live by them are protected by the First Amendment.”

The letter quoted a 2006 speech on faith and politics given by then-Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, who noted that Americans like Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, Dorothy Day and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “were not only motivated by faith, but repeatedly used religious language to argue for their cause.”

In that speech, Obama noted, “So to say that men and women should not inject their ‘personal morality’ into public policy debates is a practical absurdity.”

Other religious leaders signing the letter included Russell Moore, the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention; Bishop Frank Madison Reid III of the African Methodist Episcopal Church; Anuttama Dasa, the governing body commissioner and minister of communications for the International Society for Krishna Consciousness; Bishop Gregory John Mansour of the Eparchy of Saint Maron of Brooklyn; and Nathan J. Diament, the executive director for public policy for the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America.

Also signing the letter were Charles Haynes, vice president of the Newseum Institute; Ron Sider, the founder of Evangelicals for Social Action; and Thomas Farr, director of the Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown University and president of the Religious Freedom Institute.