The right-wing positively loves to attack Muslims. One of the favorite criticisms — and the one that shows perhaps the least amount of self-awareness — is the religious right’s claim that Islam isn’t protected under the First Amendment because it’s a political system, not a religion.
Now, here’s the thing: if you’re excluding Islam for being a “political system” then it’s nothing short of raw hypocrisy to give Christianity a pass, and here’s why.
Religion is an infuriating thing to try to define. I know how much the right-wing loves their dictionary definitions, so, to humor the right-wingers in the audience, here’s the dictionary definition of religion:
A set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.
This is an incomplete definition for a number of reasons, but I want to zero in on one part: “moral code.”
What, precisely, is a “moral code?” Is it a set of rules you have to follow to the letter, or can you discard elements of it based on your interpretation? Does a moral code necessarily have to be religious in nature — is it possible to have a moral code without having a religion? Conversely, does having a religious code automatically justify it within the greater context of the society in which you live?
This is where the religious right takes issue with Islam based on an extensive misunderstanding of what Islam is. From Ben Carson to liar Tony Perkins and others, their big claim is that Islam isn’t a religion because it’s a political system.
Rick Santorum spelled it out in the recent undercard Republican debate:
The fact of the matter is, Islam is different. I know this is going to come as a shock to a lot of people, and I mean this sincerely. Islam is not just a religion. It is also a political governing structure. The fact of the matter is, Islam is a religion, but it is also Sharia law, it is also a civil government, it is also a form of government. And, so, the idea that that is protected under the First Amendment is wrong.
Santorum is merely restating what others, like Bryan Fischer — who called Islam the “Ebola virus of culture” — and retired General Jerry Boykin have already said. You’d think, as a self-proclaimed party of religious liberty, their understanding of religion would be less rural and parochial and more urbane and broad-minded, but it’s clearly not the case.
Columnist and radio-show host Andrew McCarthy claimed Islam is more than a religion because of its “ambitions to be more than a religion, that is to say that it is an ideological, sweeping system that does not recognize a division between spiritual life on the one hand and political and civic life on the other.”
Of course, these are the same people who claim the Bible is the absolute authority on everything. And by everything, I mean everything: from tax policy to marriage laws, they claim it’s our job to respect the Bible’s rulings — the “moral code” present in the Bible — because…reasons.
And they can come up with some pretty spectacular mental gymnastics to fill in that gap.
This is very visible in the marriage equality “debate,” where suddenly we as a nation are expected to follow the Bible — actually, no; we’re expected to follow and live by what’s at most five verses in book that has 1,189 chapters and well over 30,000 verses.
Counterfactual historian and noted fiction writer David Barton, the man currently heading Cruz’s super PAC, has used the Bible to argue against minimum wage laws, estate taxes, capital gains taxes, progressive taxes in general, and internet neutrality. If that’s not an economic system and political system, I’m not sure what is.
And that’s overlooking things like Seven Mountains Theology, Dominionism, and Christian Reconstructionism. The later is explicitly incompatible with democracy and it’s designed to be that way — the father of the movement, R. J. Rushdoony, was anti-democracy and referred to it as heresy. How, exactly, is that supposed to gel with the Constitution? It sounds to me like they want an entirely new legal and political system based on an Old Testament kyritarchy.
For more evidence, here’s American Pastor’s Network’s Sam Rohrer:
Government leaders are charged with wielding the Word of God as an instrument of Justice, promoting God’s moral law as the foundation of right and wrong, encouraging those who do well biblically, and executing judgment on those who break the law.
Liberals like to joke this sounds like sharia law, but it doesn’t. Sharia law treats women like garbage and denies them rights, but it’s perfectly compatible with the type of democracy as practiced by the founders, which only gave certain men the right to vote. Historically, the sharia courts have been subject to an executive branch, and following this historical precedence is how you end up with most modern Islamic democracies.
Mosaic law, which is the law promoted by Christians like Rohrer and Rushdoony, isn’t remotely compatible, even with the sort of discriminatory democracy promoted by the founders. This brand of political Christianity is anathema to the Constitution
So here’s the bottom line: If you’re going to claim Islam doesn’t deserve First Amendment protection because it’s a “political system,” stop being a damnable hypocrite and say the same thing about Christianity. If the jackboot fits — and trust me, by their own admission, it does — wear it.
Feature image via Wikimedia Commons