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Property Rights and Religious Liberty, not Bigotry, are Republican Values

Last Tuesday, property rights and religious liberty came under attack in Spotsylvania County [1] when extremist bigots hurled abuse at leaders of a local Islamic center during a community meeting concerning the center’s proposed expansion to accommodate more worshipers.

“Nobody wants your evil cult in this county,” shouted one unidentified bigot, as supporters clapped and opponents attempted to interrupt.

“We don’t want it because you are terrorists,” the unidentified man continued.  “Every one of you are terrorists. I don’t care what you say. We don’t want it….. You can say whatever you want but every Muslim is a terrorist.”

“We don’t want you in Spotsylvania County,” shouted another bigot.

The meeting was held by the Islamic Center of Fredericksburg [2] to discuss its plans and address routine concerns, including the development’s impact on local traffic. Trustee Samer Shalaby came prepared with preliminary plans, hoping to educate, but instead faced a hostile contingent of organized opposition.

Shalaby, an engineer by trade, is known within the local community for his business, civic, and political engagement, having led interfaith charity efforts, supported Republican candidates, and, through his company, assisted in local development – including the building and expansion of Christian churches, in stark contrast to those who oppose the expansion of his house of worship.

To those driven by bigotry, none of Shalaby’s good works or rights as an American are sufficient to offset the one factor driving the attacks: his Muslim faith.

Make no mistake: this reprehensible display of bigotry demonstrates a complete disregard for core Republican values of property rights and religious liberty, in defiance of Virginia traditions laid down by Thomas Jefferson and our nation’s other founding fathers.

Appallingly, too many Republican leaders have remained silent as this vile display of bigotry and contempt for constitutional rights strikes at the very heart of American traditions of freedom.

Much of this silence can be attributed to fears of a vocally toxic element currently driving the national narrative – against which too many Republican leaders have remained fearfully silent.

Earlier this week, Republican frontrunner Donald Trump regressed back to the darkest days of human history, in calling for the establishment of a government database and mandatory ID for Muslim-Americans [3], along with warrantless searches based solely on faith.

Presidential contender Ben Carson continued the idiocy, comparing Syrian refugees to “rabid dogs” [4] – a description befitting the ghouls of ISIS, not the innocent victims fleeing the group’s evil reach.

Not all Republicans have remained silent, however.

In an interview with Bearing Drift, Republican Delegate David Ramadan denounced the vile words of the bigots in Spotsylvania in no uncertain terms, stating, “This American is entitled to his freedom of speech, and he is entitled to his own opinion, but he is not entitled to his own facts.”

“No, not every Muslim is a terrorist. Yes, we are fighting Islamic religious extremism today. Yes, our number one enemy is Islamic religious extremism, today,” continued Ramadan. “However we have American patriots that live here, that practice Islam, that we need to make sure to protect under the constitution and we as a party need to remain the party of the constitution and religious liberty.”

Ramadan forcefully concluded, “This bigotry and this stupidity has no room in my GOP.”

Chris Yakabouski, the Republican supervisor representing Spotsylvania’s Battlefield District, joined Ramadan in offering a crystal clear condemnation of the bigotry shown.

“The comments in the video are disgusting and have no place in public dialogue. I wholeheartedly condemn everything that was said in them,” said Yakabouski to Bearing Drift. “This issue should not be about one religion or another. In our country, we have freedom of religion, and should respect other beliefs.”

Yakabouski pledged to uphold the constitutional rights of the Islamic Society of Fredericksburg when its application for development permits comes before the board.

“From my point of view, this is a land use decision and religion plays no part in any of it,” declared Yakabouski. “I will guarantee that they will have a fair hearing based upon their application, just like anyone else with any other issue that comes before the board.

The protection of property rights against government overreach is a core conservative value central to mainstream Republican thought, as echoed in Yakabouski’s commitment to the group receiving a fair hearing on its plans to make use of property it owns.

While few can forget Virginia’s 2012 property rights constitutional amendment, authored by Delegate Rob Bell and Senator Mark Obenshain to protect against eminent domain abuse, the fundamental concept of property rights reaches much deeper.

“Government is instituted to protect property of every sort; as well that which lies in the various rights of individuals, as that which the term particularly expresses,” wrote founding father James Madison. “This being the end of government, that alone is a just government, which impartially secures to every man, whatever is his own.”

Throughout centuries of legal tradition, the right to use and enjoyment of property exists as an inseparable component of the right to ownership itself, for arbitrary and overbearing restrictions on use ultimately strike directly at the heart of the very concept of possession – that is, the right to make use of one’s own property, subject only to narrowly-tailored concerns related to a compelling community interest, such as traffic generated through development.

Consequently, any narrowly-tailored restrictions must be applied impartially, else the very concept of rights as a bulwark against majority overreach loses all meaning and effect.

The bigotry shown also strikes at the heart of American religious liberties, which guarantee to all the right to free exercise of religion – a right which has come under attack in recent years.

Since the days of the Pilgrims, the ideal of religious liberty has occupied a central place in the American political tradition. As Americans prepare for next week’s celebration of Thanksgiving, few can forget how this ideal impacted the development of a young colony whose path would ultimately lead towards the establishment of the greatest nation humankind has ever known.

The settlement at Plymouth, Massachusetts, founded nearly four centuries ago, arose from the desire of its inhabitants to be left alone to worship God in peace.

England of their day was not a bastion of liberty, where religious minorities faced fines and imprisonment for failing to pray in the manner prescribed by government authorities.

The experiences of religious dissenters who suffered at the hands of government was not lost on America’s founding fathers, who, in codifying natural human rights into the constitution of a new nation embarking on a remarkable experiment in liberty, saw fit to first declare that, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

This fundamental right was of prime concern to Thomas Jefferson as he set about drafting Virginia’s landmark statute for religious freedom. Jefferson wrote in Virginia’s statute:

“That to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles on supposition of their ill tendency is a dangerous fallacy which at once destroys all religious liberty because he being of course judge of that tendency will make his opinions the rule of judgment and approve or condemn the sentiments of others only as they shall square with or differ from his own.”

Ironically, Jefferson set his pen to parchment in the city of Fredericksburg, just a short distance from the Spotsylvania meeting where bigots lashed out in opposition to the Jeffersonian principles laid down nearby three centuries ago.

Contemporary proponents of religious liberty faced local government overreach in Fairfax County last year when the county’s Board of Supervisors controversially proposed an ordinance which would have shut down some home-based bible studies [5], among other constitutionally-protected forms of assembly, in an overbearing manner which grossly exceeded an existing remedy: the fair and neutral enforcement of traffic laws already on the books.

Likewise, in Spotsylvania, government action must remain impartially limited to matters of land use, traffic, and planning – without religious tests. The planned expansion must be judged by an equal or more permissive standard than that applied to any shopping center or housing development.

As Jefferson so eloquently stated, the intrusion into the religious liberty of one threatens the religious liberty of all.

For that reason, conservatives must stand opposed to the attacks made against Samer Shalaby and his fellow worshipers, who seek only to exercise their religious liberties on their own property.

This issue is fundamentally one of property and faith; not one of their property and their faith, specifically.

Republican leaders must uphold core Republican values of property rights and religious liberty by joining Delegate David Ramadan and Spotsylvania Supervisor Chris Yakabouski in forcefully condemning the bigoted remarks directed against the constitutional rights of fellow Americans.

As silence is consent, Republican leaders must not remain silent in upholding their core values based upon longstanding traditions of freedom first laid down by our founding fathers.