At the National Press Club on Friday, Ben Carson jumped back on his anti-Muslim bandwagon, claiming that the Founding Fathers would have rejected a Muslim for president. Yes, they put Article VI, the “no religious test clause” into the Constitution, but he thinks there is some wiggle room there in between “no” and “religious test.”
All he had to do was jump inside the Founding Fathers heads and invent some history. It’s all in a day’s work for a conservative, since genuine history won’t serve their purposes. To an audience member’s question about whether a Muslim could be loyal to the Constitution, he answered,
“A good understanding of the Constitution answers that question for you. Because when you look at the Article II, and we’re talking about requirements for the president, they have to be a ‘natural born citizen.’ Now why is that the case?”
Because of course, a Muslim can’t be an American citizen. You have to wonder if Carson even hear’s himself speak. Muslims are born in America every day. But he wasn’t finished expounding on his imaginary America:
I’m sure if you had gone to the Founders and said, ‘but what about this person? They may not be a natural born citizen but you know they’ve been in America for most of their lives, and they’re a fine upstanding citizen, they served in the military, they came back they were on the police force, can’t they be the president?’… they would have said no. They said ‘We don’t even want to take the slight chance that we would put someone in that position who had different loyalties.’ That’s the answer to your question.
Watch Carson’s live construction of a set of fantasy Founding Fathers more conducive to his prejudices (his answer begins at the 42:30 mark):
Of course, we DO have the no religious test clause and we also have the First Amendment. Added to that, we have the many words of the Founding Fathers relating to genuine religious freedom, not the religious tyranny supported by Religious Right demagogues. In truth, some of the Founding Fathers didn’t trust Christians to be president. Others were Christians themselves but still felt religion should play no role in politics.
Thomas Jefferson said that “our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions,” which is a point Carson apparently misses, since he feels civil rights are determined by religious opinions. Then again, Carson is one of those who would prefer to use fake Jefferson quotes rather than real ones.
The trouble for Carson is that the Jeffersonian ideal of religious liberty is of a species quite different from the bastardized version expounded by Carson and others.
According to Jefferson in his 1786 Virginia Statute for Establishing Religious Freedom,
[T]he proscribing any citizen as unworthy the public confidence by laying upon him an incapacity of being called to offices of trust and emolument, unless he profess or renounce this or that religious opinion, is depriving him injuriously of those privileges and advantages to which in common with his fellow-citizens he has a natural right; that it tends only to corrupt the principles of that religion it is meant to encourage, by bribing with a monopoly of worldly honours and emoluments, those who will externally profess and conform to it…
Jefferson was never faced with the prospect of a Muslim running for president, but we know Jefferson owned a copy of the Quran, and that he cut his copy of the Bible up into little pieces to remove the miracles that form the basis of the Christian religion.
We also know that Jefferson wrote in his autobiography about the preamble to his Virginia Statute for Establishing Religious Freedom, which is a forerunner, or precursor to the First Amendment, that,
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.
We know that George Washington wrote in a similar vein:
We have abundant reason to rejoice that in this Land the light of truth and reason has triumphed over the power of bigotry and superstition … In this enlightened Age and in this Land of equal liberty it is our boast, that a man’s religious tenets will not forfeit the protection of the Laws, nor deprive him of the right of attaining and holding the highest Offices that are known in the United States (letter to the members of the New Church in Baltimore, January 27, 1793).
The key word here for Carson is “enlightened,” a concept which eludes him. If this is not a direct enough contradiction of Carson’s claims, then there is the letter Washington wrote to reassure a Jewish congregation in 1790:
All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it were 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, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support (letter to the Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island).
This is a pretty clear assertion of the equivalent legal standing of all religions, including, specifically, Islam. For Carson to assert, as he has, that the Founding Fathers would reject a Muslim, has to be seen as a complete fabrication.
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.