Monday, November 23, 2015

GOP Congressman's Defense of the First Amendment and Religious Liberty Outrages Conservatives

by Nomad

One Republican Congressman was given a stern dressing down for a letter he sent to a constituent regarding fears of a Muslim takeover. Apparently, upholding the First Amendment and the Constitution's defense of religious liberty makes some conservatives livid.

Earlier this month, a widely-read conservative website, RedState, posted an article expressing outrage about a letter sent to a constituent by Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger from Illinois. As per the Tea Party echo chamber, this article was re-posted ad nauseam.
The original letter sent to Kinzinger's office was related to the fears of the supposed spread of Muslim Sharia Law in his district.
To this, Kinzinger gave a polite and well-considered reply. That did not sit well with the conservatives. At all. 
Kinzinger’s email response begins by acknowledging that many people inside and outside of the expansive 16th congressional district have concerns about Sharia Law, but then took things a bridge too far by stating that Sharia Law was protected under the free exercise clause of the 1st amendment and that it was his sworn duty as an elected member of Congress to defend the Constitution and by extension Islamic Sharia Law.
First elected to Congress in 2010, Kinzinger was re-elected to Congress in both 2012 and 2014 to represent Illinois's 16th congressional district. He is also a United States Air Force vet and flew missions in South America, Guam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. With a military record like that, Kinzinger's loyalty to his nation and all that it stands for is something few would dare to question.
The writer of the RedState piece, Ulysses Arn, said that the reply made Kinzinger, the spokesperson for the House GOP establishment on all things related to the military and foreign policy "look like a fool."
Even for a conservative, that's a pretty disrespectful thing to say to a veteran who risked his life fighting Islamic extremists.

Arn implies that, in Kinzinger's letter, the congressman (or a member of his staff) claimed that Sharia Law was just as important, and protected, as Christian and Jewish religious laws are.
Of course, that's not at all what Kinzinger wrote in his email reply.
What he did say- in very plain terms- was that, as a Congressman, he had sworn an oath to the Constitution. 
"While our Founding Fathers thoughtfully prohibited the establishment of state sanctioned religion, they purposefully did not restrict religious activity in everyday life. With that in mind, just as Christian, Jewish, and other faith tradition laws may be a part of a private court case between individuals, the same right is guaranteed for Muslim Americans.
That last sentence is important, as we shall see. He went on, reminding the complainant that a representative must stand for all members of the community, not merely the Christians or the Jewish.
As your representative, I swore an oath to protect and defend the U.S. Constitution. I take this oath seriously and will do everything in my power to ensure it is executed faithfully and the rights it guarantees are preserved for all Americans. The fundamental freedom of religion is cornerstone of our American democracy and distinguishes us from nations that do not guarantee this freedom for their citizens.
For a Republican congressman, that's a pretty impressive line of thought. And this clear-minded description of his responsibility as a Congressmen was enough to make Arn, see crimson. 
Here's part of the dressing down:
It is also clear from this letter that Kinzinger’s staffer or intern is completely clueless as to what Sharia Law actually is, which is a tyrannical set of decrees that are wholly incompatible with the US Constitution.
Arn's tirade lists all of the atrocities of Sharia Law, such as its cruel treatment of women, "whereas the Constitution gives women equal rights to men."
A fairly ironic statement coming from a conservative since it was the Reaganites that helped to defeat the Equal Rights Amendment in 1982 which would have specifically guaranteed equal rights for women.

Arn then makes a list of all of the horrors of Sharia Law from pedophilia, honor killings, the stoning of people accused of adultery, slavery both of labor and for sex, and the waging of Jihad, aka Islamic terrorism against non-Muslims and Jews. 
And Arn's description of Sharia Law may (or may not) be accurate. Of course, most people in the US would agree that Sharia laws have very little place in American courts. So that list is really preaching to the choir.

One problem: Kinzinger wasn't trying to defend Islam or Sharia law. He was defending religious liberty and the Constitution. 

Kinzinger and the Constitution
The right wing rant seems to ignore the fact that Congressman Kinzinger never came close to advocating in favor Sharia law at all. He certainly never said Sharia laws should overrule the law of the land. 

What Kinzinger did say was that as a representative, he had sworn to follow the Constitution and the drafters of that document believed two things, 
  • all religions must be equally respected and 
  • that the government cannot favor one religion, such as Christianity, over another religion, such as Islam. 
This is the standard interpretation of the First Amendment. It's called the "Establishment Clause."
The establishment clause sets up a line of demarcation between the functions and operations of the institutions of religion and government in our society. It does so because the framers of the First Amendment recognized that when the roles of the government and religion are intertwined, the result too often has been bloodshed or oppression.
For 150 years of US history, the subject seemed settled. Then in 1947, the high court ruled, (Everson v. Board of Education of the Township of Ewing) that the Establishment Clause forbids not only practices that “aid one religion” or “prefer one religion over another,” but also those that “aid all religions.” Not one Supreme Court judge dissented on that decision. 
Later in 1972, the Supreme Court in Wisconsin v. Yoder stated that
“only those interests of the highest order and those not otherwise served can overbalance legitimate claims to the free exercise of religion.”
So long as no laws are broken and the laws are in keeping with the Constitution, a government official cannot outlaw the free exercise of any religion. This is the fundamental basis for religious liberty.

So what does this mean in real terms?
The government, for example, cannot step in and declare it illegal for  babies to be baptized or, for that matter, for Jewish babies to be circumcised. (There's a good case for cruelty to non-consenting minor too.) 
The US government cannot force Jews to eat pork or force little children to attend to Sunday schools. 
It cannot legally close churches, synagogues or mosques, simply because the majority of the public disapproves of the faith. 
The government cannot ignore due process in the courts simply because a citizen happens to belong to a minority faith.

Furthermore, all of those Constitutional prohibitions apply to every religion, not merely to the religions that conservatives don't understand or fear.
God Bless America.

A Christian Monopoly on Religious Liberty?
The fact that these things cannot be done is what seems to be the thing that bothers Mr. Arn. Yet, only a month ago, the Right was all about religious freedom- keeping the government from interfering with religion. They even claimed there was a war on religion. 
Yet at the same time, these same people who deny religious freedom to Muslims. 
Think I am exaggerating?

In September, the Family Research Council president Tony Perkins was asked about remarks Dr. Ben Carson made about Islam being inconsistent with the U.S. Constitution. Perkins said:
Religious freedom and our liberty is ordered liberty under the Constitution. And as Dr. Carson pointed out, and I know this is driving the Left crazy, that Islam is not just a religion, Islam is an economic system, it is a judicial system, it is a comprehensive system which is incompatible with the Constitution. That’s what Dr. Carson said and he happens to be correct.
But go to the state of Israel and see if the same could be said for Judaism. And yet Christians tolerate this religion pretty well. 

Actually, most Americans are ignorant of the fact that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are actually progressions of one faith. "People of the Book" is the phrase used, that is, faiths which recognize the God of Abraham, as the one and only god. 
In Islam, you will find both Jesus and Mary honored as prophets (but not worshiped). The same, of course, is not true between Christianity and Judaism.

Scare-mongering Perkins artfully twisted his argument into warning against scaring people. He said:
The reality is: I think what you’re seeing here is an effort to drive a wedge into this issue of religious liberty by scaring people into thinking this means we have to embrace all of Islam, and that even providing protection for our country against those who want to blow — I mean, when was the last time you saw a Baptist trying to blow something up?
Many people would find that a rather remarkable thing to say. What about the KKK? 
Only last year the Virginia chapter of the KKK said that his hate group was in fact "a faith-based Christian organization." In fact, the KKK has always thought the God of Christ was on its side and the lynchings and cross burnings were all considered by KKK members are an extreme exercise of their religious beliefs. 

Contrary to Perkins statement, the KKK has been suspected of "blowing things up" or at least setting things alight. The FBI suspect the KKK to behind the burning of a historic black church in South Carolina just this summer

And that's only the most recent example of KKK violence. There are plenty of other examples of terror groups who claim to be faithful Christians doing God's work. 
Does this mean no Christian should be president? Only if you follow the tortured logic of Perkins and Carson. 

As another man from Illinois, Abraham Lincoln, once wrote:
Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves; and, under a just God, can not long retain it.
Why The Menace is a Myth
But what about the dangers of Sharia law? Shouldn't we all be worried about this?

Back in 2011, Amy Sullivan in an article for Huffington Post took on the so-called menace of the spread of Sharia Law in the US. Even though Rick Santorum (who never met a subject he couldn't turn into a conservative fear) called this an "existential threat."
Along with Planned Parenthood and same-sex marriage and secularism.)

In truth, however, that "menace" is entirely a figment of the Far Right wing mind, says Sullivan.
We have a criminal justice system that no outside law can supersede. Additionally, judges consider foreign laws only if they choose to -- they can always refuse to recognize a foreign law.
So far, there's been no proof of any judge mistaking Sharia law for US law. There's been no evidence of any judge anywhere in America claiming that Sharia law is superior to US law. Any judge foolish enough to do this would be risking his position.

(I did find one interesting case involving the use of taxpayer funding which went to Sharia-compliant financing (SCF);  that is, financing that follows the dictates of Islamic law. There has been some justified controversy on this subject. Of course, that judge, the late Justice Lawrence Paul Zatkoff was nominated by the father of the conservative movement, President Ronald Reagan.)

The bottom line remains the same: The United States doesn't in any way allow the Sharia or the laws of any religion to override its own laws.

So is there no truth at all to these claims at all? No, not much. Says Sullivan:
Sharia is sometimes consulted in civil cases with Muslim litigants who may request a Muslim arbitrator. These may involve issues of marriage contracts or commercial agreements, or probating an Islamic will. They are no different than the practice of judges allowing Orthodox Jews to resolve some matters in Jewish courts, also known as beth din.
U.S. courts also regularly interpret foreign law in commercial disputes between two litigants from different countries, or custody agreements brokered in another country. In those cases, Islamic law is treated like any other foreign law or Catholic canon law.
So there's nothing extraordinary going on. The whole Sharia law panic is simply a means of fear mongering and stirring up of anti-Muslim feeling, which is presently at a fevered pitch at the moment.

The Promotion of the Myth
Remember when Fox News made a laughing-stock of the nation when one of its so-called experts claimed that certain area of the United States, France, and Britain were no-go zones for non-Muslims. The allegation claimed that in these areas only Sharia law was recognized and the local laws did not apply. 
According to Emerson, "Sharia law" essentially overrode the laws of the countries in which said zones were located, and local police avoided interceding in the affected areas.
When the claim was found to be false, the "expert" Steve Emerson was forced to admit he had essentially made it all up. In fact, Emerson fully retracted his claims and issued an apology at his website. He wrote:
I have clearly made a terrible error for which I am deeply sorry....I am not going to make any excuses. I made an inexcusable error. And I am obligated to openly acknowledge that mistake. I wish to apologize for all residents of that great city of Birmingham.
But the apology did not extend to Muslim people who live there apparently. The people who have most to fear by the hysteria.
For its part, Fox News issued four separate on-air apologies. That's quite unusual for Fox News which prefers to move on rather than look back at yesterday's misinformation.

This kind of anti-Muslim hysteria spread by conservative web sites, Fox News and on social media must be dismissed as both irrational and un-American, the same way we reject anti-Semitism and racism. 

A Veiled Threat
The RedState piece ends with this fine bit of arrogant presumption. Clearly, says the writer, the email must be the work of some underling in Kinzinger's staff. 
After all, no true conservative Republican would dare to express such views. 

Arn says in closing that Kinzinger, who reportedly scans the Internet, should take this article as warning and not let this sort of "accident" happen again:   
I fully expect in the next few days for him to fire or seriously reprimanded whoever wrote this ludicrous email on his behalf and to issue an apology/retraction of this truly offensive email done in his name.
The thing that really must have offended the RedState columnist, we can only assume, must be the part that Rep. Kinzinger actually knows what the Constitution actually says and knows to what his responsibility as a representative in Congress actually are.