“The purpose of separation of church and state is to keep forever from these shores the ceaseless strife that has soaked the soil of Europe in blood for centuries.” – James Madison, 1803
Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council is that guy the Founding Fathers warned you about. He is sticking with the views earlier expressed by Bryan Fischer and other haters, that Muslims have no claim on First Amendment protections. According to Perkins, members of ISIL are Muslims “practicing their faith,” as opposed to all those peaceful, live-and-let-live Muslims you and I are all familiar with. Peaceful, says Perkins, because they are not practicing the Qur’an.
Lying through his teeth, Perkins says, “I defend the freedom of religion in our Constitution,” but also says “all religions are not the same.” And according to Perkins, Islam “tears at the fabric of our democracy” and this violates the intent of the Founding Fathers, apparently somehow (he doesn’t explain), and so we cannot let Muslims be Muslims.
And so, he insists,
So we have to be very clear about our laws and restrain those things that will harm the whole. We are a nation that was founded on Judeo-Christian principles, that’s the foundation of our nation, not Islam, but the Judeo-Chrsitian God.
You might remember Fischer saying, back in 2011 that,
Islam has no fundamental First Amendment claims, for the simple reason that it was not written to protect the religion of Islam. Islam is entitled only to the religious liberty we extend to it out of courtesy. While there certainly ought to be a presumption of religious liberty for non-Christian religious traditions in America, the Founders were not writing a suicide pact when they wrote the First Amendment.
And it wasn’t just Islam Fischer was after. He was after all “counterfeit” religions, as he puts it, in other words, any religion other than his own:
Counterfeit religions, alternative religions to Christianity have no First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion.
You can see what Fischer meant by this when he attacked the Obamas for engaging in the Hindu festival of lights in November 2013:
This is a counterfeit religion,. It is an Eastern religion. It is, in essence, an occult religion. It’s a counterfeit, a false alternative to Christianity. It ultimately represents the doctrine of demons, that is what you have with Hinduism and now this is being celebrated in the White House.
So this Lakshmi, this is the name of a demon now that has been invited into the White House by the First Lady.
In August of this year, Fischer again turned his sights on Islam, saying,
Islam has no fundamental First Amendment claims, for the simple reason that it was not written to protect the religion of Islam. Islam is entitled only to the religious liberty we extend to it out of courtesy…From a constitutional point of view, Muslims have no First Amendment right to build mosques in America.
Of course, this is simply not true. The U.S. Constitution was ratified by every state in the Union, guarantees freedom of religion in the United States. The First Amendment says,
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
As Jefferson wrote of the preamble to his own Virginia Act to Establish Religious Freedom (which was inspiration for the First Amendment):
Where the preamble declares, that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed by inserting “Jesus Christ,” so that it would read “A departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion;” the insertion was rejected by the great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mohammedan, the Hindoo and Infidel of every denomination. (Autobiography, p. 40)
And Thomas Jefferson’s own view was that, “But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”
James Madison, Jefferson’s friend and in full agreement with Jefferson’s views on religious freedom, authored the Memorial & Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments (1785). He went before the House of Representatives on June 8, 1789, and urged upon them a Bill of Rights, including especially “rights of conscience” which, along with freedom of speech, ought to be placed “out of the power of the Legislature to infringe them.”
What Madison specifically said he wanted was this phrase: “The civil rights of none shall be abridged on account of religious belief or equal rights of conscience be in any manner, or on any pretext, infringed.”
This was the intent of the Founding Fathers, and again, it agrees with the expressed view of Jefferson. “The civil rights of none,” Madison said, without excluding Islam or any other religion.
He also wanted this Bill of Rights to apply not only to the federal government, but to the states. This is part of the public record; no mysteries here.
We are used by now to the Religious Right telling lies. They lie so fast and so often you can barely keep up with them, and this is their plan of course, to confuse the issue. All they have to do, like tobacco proponents or global warming deniers, is to sow doubt, and all the endless parade of lies serve this purpose admirably.
Not to put too fine about upon it, the Founding Fathers never intended to limit the religious freedom of Muslims, or those of any other religion. They meant all religions to be treated equally, and all to be extended the same rights by way of the First Amendment and also Article VI, paragraph 3 of the Constitution itself, which prohibits religious tests for office.
The Founding Fathers could certainly have been more precise in their language, but the First Amendment is the fruit of democracy in action. Even so, they were quite clear what was intended through that amendment through utterances outside the amendment itself, and even where the language is more precise, as in Article VI, paragraph 3, Republicans simply ignore the Constitution and pretend those words do not exist.
Religious Right figures love to spout fake George Washington quotes, but they won’t quote what he actually said, as in his letter to the Jewish community of Newport, Rhode Island in 1790:
The Citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for giving to Mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy: a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection, should demean themselves as good citizens.
“All possess alike,” said the Father of our country, matching precisely Jefferson’s and Madison’s language.
Let us not forget that Jefferson wrote to the Danbury Baptists,
Moreover, state support of an established religion tends to make the clergy unresponsive to their own people, and leads to corruption within religion itself. Erecting the “wall of separation between church and state,” therefore, is absolutely essential in a free society.
James Madison, who rightly or wrongly is known as the “Father of the Constitution,” agreed with his old friend when he wrote, in a letter to Edward Livingston in 1822: “An alliance or coalition between Government and religion cannot be too carefully guarded against…”
Wiser words have never been spoken, and they should be carefully, dare I say, “religiously” heeded today.
Hrafnkell Haraldsson, a social liberal with leanings toward centrist politics has degrees in history and philosophy. His interests include, besides history and philosophy, human rights issues, freedom of choice, religion, and the precarious dichotomy of freedom of speech and intolerance. He brings a slightly different perspective to his writing, being that he is neither a follower of an Abrahamic faith nor an atheist but a polytheist, a modern-day Heathen who follows the customs and traditions of his Norse ancestors. He maintains his own blog, A Heathen’s Day, which deals with Heathen and Pagan matters, and Mos Maiorum Foundation www.mosmaiorum.org, dedicated to ethnic religion. He has also contributed to NewsJunkiePost, GodsOwnParty and Pagan+Politics.