So recently we’ve had Bryan Fischer, who thinks the First Amendment only applies to Christians, declaring Muslims should be denied positions in Congress, even if they’re elected. Roy Moore, the probable soon-to-be-senator from Alabama, says the same. and other Republicans aren’t going to fuss about it.
They are not unique. So here’s an unpublished (slightly revised) column I wrote for And Magazine before they dispensed with my services:
To paraphrase the Slacktivist blog, anyone who feels compelled to follow up “I support religious liberty” with a “but” probably doesn’t support religious liberty. Case in point, Southern Baptist pastor Dean Haun of Tennessee. “By all means let s stand for religious liberty in America, but—” Haun said in January. The “but” being he doesn’t support freedom for Muslims, and opposes other Baptists supporting it.
Haun recently resigned from the Southern Baptists’ International Mission Board after it filed a court brief supporting the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge, NJ. A township had refused to approve the society’s proposed mosque, the society sued (and won). For Haun, supporting the rights of a religion he doesn’t believe in goes against his faith: “If we defend the rights of people to construct places of false worship, are we not helping them speed down the highway to hell? I want no part in supporting a false religion, even if it is in the name of religious freedom.” He adds that Islam isn’t a religion anyway but a “geo-political movement that seeks to replace our values and even our faith with sharia law. I doubt if the situation were reversed if the Muslims would stand up for our religious liberty.” (He is, by the way wrong on that).
Supporting religious liberty only when you agree with the religion is the equivalent of “honest when convenient” — you don’t believe in religious freedom, you believe in your own religion’s freedom (I’m sure Haun would shriek to the skies if someone denied his church any rights). This is the reasoning that’s led to so much bloodshed in the name of religion. Muslims have warred on Christians, Christians have warred on Muslims. Catholics persecuted Protestants for rejecting the one true faith. Protestants persecuted Catholics for believing in a false church. Puritans fled to America so they could worship as they chose; when Quakers in Puritan territory wanted to worship as they chose, Puritans whipped, exiled or hung them.
The drafters of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights (and the many Americans who supported and ratified them) understood this. They gave us a founding document that guarantees freedom of religion for all and bans religious tests for federal office. A lot of Americans thought that was unChristian — a Jew, a Muslim, even an atheist could become president. George Washington, however, celebrated that in the United States, “all possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship.” Haun, apparently does not.
There’s an old quote to the effect that “they came for the Jews and I did not speak up because I was not a Jew; they came for the socialists and I did not speak up because I was not a socialist … they came for me and there was nobody left to speak up.” The point being that protecting the freedom of people you disagree with is, if nothing else, enlightened self-interest as well as morally right. As JFK put it, an attack on one religion should be viewed as an attack on all. Unfortunately too many people don’t see it that way: like Haun and Fischer, they want the government to come for the Muslims. Either they’re so naive they imagine their obviously true religion will never be on the receiving end, or they see oppressing Muslims as one more building block in the Christian theocracy (their version of Christianity, of course) they intend to build here.
Haun talks about Islam trying to impose its religious laws on us, but how is that any different from the Republican religious right? Zealots who think their beliefs about gay marriage, women’s rights, birth control and countless other things should supercede the rights and beliefs of anyone who disagrees. I’m pretty sure Haun and Fischer ain’t going to stand up for my religious rights any more than they do for Muslims. I support their right to believe and advocate for a government that favors Christianity — but if they think that’s “religious freedom” they’re either lying to us or themselves.