If you wait long enough, you will see somebody in the mainstream media point to a glaring fact in response to extremist Republican claims. This is what happened with Dr. Ben Carson’s claim that Muslims should not be able to be presidents. What is funny about all this is that Carson says Muslims beliefs are incompatible with the United States Constitution even while demonstrating that his own beliefs are incompatible with the Constitution.
While Fox & Friends’ Elisabeth Hasselbeck was claiming his objection to Muslim presidents made Carson “a real person,” this fact – and the relevant portion of that Constitution – were pointed out to Carson’s business manager and confidant Armstrong Williams by CNN’s Alisyn Camerota.
Watch courtesy of Media Matters for America:
ALISYN CAMEROTA: What was Dr. Carson thinking when he was saying that a Muslim cannot be president of the U.S.?
ARMSTRONG WILLIAMS: He’s thinking like someone who loves America first, who wants to protect America. He understands that there are tenets of Islam that hates Jews, will kill homosexuals, will kill Muslims, do not advocate the belief and value systems that made America into the country that it is in today. It may have been an unconvenient [sic] truth but it is the truth.
CAMEROTA: Armstrong, you’re talking about an extremist radical strain, not the strain that millions of American Muslims practice here in this country. You know there are more American-Muslims than there are Episcopalians. You’re talking about a radical strain.
WILLIAMS: Dr. Carson was asked his opinion. His opinion was, the timing, at this point he would not vote for a Muslim in the White House. This is why he’s not a politician. This is why he’s not trying to be politically correct. This is America. It’s a place of freedom of speech.
CAMEROTA: And freedom of religion.
WILLIAMS: You express what you believe and how you feel.
CAMEROTA: And freedom of religion.
WILLIAMS: This is not an issue — it is not an issue of religion to Dr. Carson. This is an issue of one’s belief system, on how they will govern. Your beliefs, what you believe in, how you look upon people, how you value people is dictated by what you believe.
CAMEROTA: Armstrong, let me read to you Article VI of the Constitution, which says that anyone of any religion can serve in public office. Here it is, “No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” Dr. Carson’s belief system violates that part of the Constitution.
WILLIAMS: Dr. Carson, Alisyn, as you’re alluding to, was not speaking about religion — not at all. His, like most Americans, in their hearts, if they search themselves and they ask questions, if you see what’s going on in the world today and what we’re becoming as a nation, if you search yourself deeply and ask yourself, at this time in the history of our country, in the question that was posed to him, which he asked and answered truthfully, is that he would not be comfortable with someone who shares the Islamic Muslim faith in the White House.
CAMEROTA: Is Dr. Carson only —
WILLIAMS: And if Dr. Carson, because — let me finish, let me finish. And if Dr. Carson, because of his love for America, he is willing — everything is not about winning the White House for him. It’s about standing up for what he believes in, telling the truth. Even if it makes CNN and others uncomfortable, it is what he believes.
Now granted, Armstrong Williams told us this summer that Carson “doesn’t get involved in the minutia” – but he ought to: in this case, the minutia of the United States Constitution.
As excuses go, Williams’ is lame as they come. Carson was not only not “politically correct,” he was not factually correct. And the details matter. Saying it’s just an “opinion” doesn’t excuse it because there is no such thing as “just an opinion.” Opinions inform our decisions. For Republicans, where facts seem always absent, they are indistinguishable from decisions.
In truth, for the non-religious, or for people of minority religions like myself, there is no real difference between Sharia Law and the Law of Moses. They are pretty much the same. It’s just a different God, or the same God with a different name. Both are incompatible with the Constitution because both reject the diverse, pluralistic nature of the modern liberal democracy that is the United States.
Egyptologist Jan Assmann has pointed to the origins of monotheistic intolerance in the Old Testament, calling it the “Mosaic distinction,” the application of true vs. false in religion, whereas its predecessor, polytheism, because by definition all gods exist, had served as a means of translation between cultures.
Those who created Christianity when Jesus’ generation had passed away, were guided by the First Commandment, and as New Testament scholar Gerd Lüdemann writes, “Accordingly, they were unwilling or unable to accept the inherent right others to accept, promote, and live by other religious systems.” As we can see from Republican discourse, nothing has changed in nearly twenty centuries.
These Church fathers “demonized members of their own communities” (Santorum’s attacks on mainline Protestants, liberal Catholics and liberal Jews are examples), “forbade dialogue with ‘apostates,'” (seen just this year with California Pastor Jack Hibbs’ rejection of religious dialog) “falsified writings in the name of what they mistakenly took for a higher purpose” (hello David Barton), “and built walls against the rational search for enlightenment” (denialism of Global Warming as just one continuing example).
Lüdemann points out that the author of the New Testament’s pastorals equated “‘correct’ belief with obedience…and created a culture of suppression” (the Republican War on Women, the poor, and gays are examples of this). Paul of Tarsus is often seen as the “founder” of Christianity and Lüdemann reminds us of Paul’s authoritarian tone: “he was accustomed to carry out his own will and force it upon others” (hello Kim Davis).
Is it any surprise today that conservative Christians like Carson act with the same callous disregard toward members of other belief systems?
These Republicans – and consequently the rest of us – are fighting against centuries of indoctrination in intolerance. These Republicans did not invent the idea that they are being persecuted because the rest of us won’t listen to them. Some early Christians felt persecuted for having to live among Pagans, and this attitude, too, has carried forward into modern times.
My point here is that if anyone does NOT have a right to say somebody’s beliefs are incompatible with the Constitution, it is people like Ben Carson, whose own beliefs are so incompatible with the attitudes of the men who crafted our Founding Document, men who, like Thomas Jefferson, included among his fellow Americans “the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo and infidel of every denomination.”
What Carson and others put against the Constitution’s message of tolerance is the cry of Shenoute the monk, who, in the fifth century having ransacked a Pagan’s property, claimed, in his own defense, “there is no crime for those who have Christ.”
What the Constitution gives us, with Article VI’s “no religious test clause” and through the First Amendment, is a complete rejection of Shenoute, while Ben Carson and the Religious Right reject Article VI and the First Amendment.
The choice should be pretty clear to voters, if for no other reason that, for once, it was clear even to the mainstream media.
Gerd Lüdemann. Intolerance and the Gospel: Selected Texts from the New Testament. Prometheus Books, 2007.
Jan Assmann. Moses the Egyptian: The Memory of Egypt in Western Monotheism. Harvard University Press, 1997.
Michael Gaddis. There is No Crime for Those Who Have Christ: Religious Violence in the Christian Roman Empire. University of California Press, 2005.