By Joseph L. Conn
Bryan Fischer has quite a reputation for incendiary remarks.
Over the years, the American Family Association blogger and radio ranter has asserted that Hitler came up with the concept of church-state separation, that native Americans deserved to lose control of North America because of their “superstition, savagery and sexual immorality” and that gay sex is a form of “domestic terrorism.” He also suggested that a whale that killed its trainer should be stoned to death, in keeping with biblical law.
So I guess it’s no surprise that yesterday the Sage of Tupelo completely rewrote American constitutional history.
In a blog post headlined “Islam and the First Amendment: Privileges but not Rights,” Fischer casually declared that non-Christians have no religious liberty protections under the U.S. Constitution.
“The First Amendment was written by the Founders to protect the free exercise of Christianity,” he said. “They were making no effort to give special protections to 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.”
“From a constitutional point of view,” Fischer continued, “Muslims have no First Amendment right to build mosques in America. They have that privilege at the moment, but it is a privilege that can be revoked if, as is in fact the case, Islam is a totalitarian ideology dedicated to the destruction of the United States.”
There, in a nutshell (pun intended), you have the Religious Right’s view of America. Christianity is the favored faith, and all other viewpoints about religion hold second-class status, dependent on the “courtesy” of the majority. (And, I would quickly add, I am sure that Fischer thinks some varieties of Christianity are far preferable to others; once he and his kind assumed power, Christians who didn’t measure up to his fundamentalist standard would find themselves categorized with other heathen.)
Fischer’s viewpoint, of course, is diametrically opposite of the perspective of James Madison, Thomas Jefferson and the other visionaries who created the United States of America. They fought long and hard to create a Constitution and a government that protected the freedom of all Americans to follow their own consciences when it comes to religion.
Did that include Islam? Yes.
Jefferson described his Virginia Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom as “meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and infidel of every denomination.” The Constitution now guarantees that expansive policy throughout the land.
Jefferson and Madison fought the Bryan Fischers of their day, and we must do so in our era.
U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) is doing his part. Durbin has a scheduled a Senate hearing on the civil rights of American Muslims. It’s a positive counterpunch to the anti-Islamic charade put on in the House recently by Rep. Peter King.
Said Durbin, “Our Constitution protects the free exercise of religion for all Americans. During the course of our history, many religions have faced intolerance. It is important for our generation to renew our founding charter’s commitment to religious diversity and to protect the liberties guaranteed by our Bill of Rights.”