Enough with the religious bigotry already

Back in 2013, I proudly accepted an invitation to attend the Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership at the University of Virginia.  I met a lot of great people, Republican and Democrat, during my year in the Political Leaders program, and I’m proud to call them all my friends.  One of those friends is Muslim.  He’s as loyal an American as anybody I know, and we had a lot of fun spending multi-hour car rides arguing about politics.  His son was recently accepted at West Point, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen him prouder.  He’s a great American, a great family man, and he loves his country.

And right now, I don’t know that I could look him in the eye.

I spent a lot of time defending the GOP to him and my classmates during my year in Sorensen. I’ve always been proud of being a member of the GOP.  We’re the Party of Lincoln, the party that freed the slaves, saved the union, and continues to fight for individual and religious liberty today.  It’s hard, however, to be proud after the week we’ve just had.  While I know that the attitudes expressed by two of our presidential frontrunners aren’t indicative of the entire party – they certainly don’t speak for me – they are by no means the only folks in the Republican party to express these opinions.  Frankly, I’m ashamed of it.

It started with Donald Trump.  I can almost forgive the Donald for this one, because he doesn’t have a lot of experience campaigning, and not every candidate is willing to contradict the inevitable crazy person asking an idiotic question in a public forum.  That’s why John McCain got so much credit for when he did it. So I wasn’t surprised at Trump’s failure when asked this question:

Wrong answer.

This would have been a perfect time for Trump to get past all the birther nonsense of the past, by simply stating the facts: Obama is not a muslim, and muslims aren’t a problem.  The willingness of some people to equate all of Islam with terrorism and the radicals who use that religion as an excuse to kill Americans is the real problem, and it’s one that must be confronted.  We, as a nation, are better than that.  That some misguided people use religion as a weapon or as an excuse to commit heinous acts of murder and terror is not a legitimate reason to condemn an entire belief system.

It didn’t end there unfortunately.

Less than a week later, on Meet the Press, Dr. Ben Carson, another of the GOP frontrunners, doubled down on the kind of rhetoric that Trump failed to confront.  If you haven’t seen it, here’s the clip:

This clip is far more troubling to me than Trump’s failure to contradict a moron.

Essentially, Dr. Carson is suggesting that we establish a religious test for the Presidency.  He would exclude Muslims from the office, claiming that their religion is somehow incompatible with the Constitution.  Which is an odd position, given that the Constitution itself bars the use of any religious tests for the holding of any public office in the United States.  Article VI is absolutely clear on the matter:

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States

The framers were prescient, as they often were, that some of us would demand that public offices only be held by those who profess certain religious beliefs.  That’s why Article VI includes this prohibition, and the first amendment made to the Constitution was to protect religious liberty.  We, as a party, cannot claim the mantle of protecting religious liberty if we are unwilling to accept that this means protecting the religious liberties of Christian and non-Christian alike.  Dr. Carson should know better.

The willful conflation of the nearly 3 million peaceful, loyal American Muslims with the loud, violent minority of foreign radical extremists needs to stop.  The open bigotry we’ve seen this week is just a symptom of a larger problem, and it’s a problem that must be confronted and exposed by the GOP, not ignored or swept aside as “political correctness” or “victim politics.”  It’s the same problem we see on the illegal immigration issue.  We need, as a party, to stop accepting this kind of bigotry and start standing up to it.  That’s a moral imperative.  It doesn’t matter whether it helps us or hurts us at the ballot box, it’s something we need to do because it’s the right thing to do.

Come on, people.  We’re better than this.

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