The Blog

Religious Freedom Is Under Attack -- by Republicans?

The signs can be found at numerous rallies Republican and Tea Party alike. There is no mistake in the hidden meaning of these words when you read "we want to take our country back," or hear presidential candidates like Donald Trump repeat them.
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

The signs can be found at numerous rallies Republican and Tea Party alike. There is no mistake in the hidden meaning of these words when you read "we want to take our country back," or hear presidential candidates like Donald Trump repeat them. Energized by people like Trump, who questioned the birthplace of President Obama, thereby canonizing the "Birther" issue into right-wing catechism, the idea that Obama was born in Kenya was promulgated as much for their base to believe he was a Muslim than the color of his skin.

In poll after poll, a significant amount of Republicans and Independents indeed believe that President Obama is a Muslim. So putting aside for the moment that Obama is of black complexion with an African American heritage, the rallying cry of his detractors is accentuated by their belief (no matter how many times Obama has said he is a Christian) that Barack Hussein Obama follows the tenets of the Islamic faith.

Now, almost four years after Republicans claimed that after their party lost the presidential election because they were not inclusive enough, they have added religion as a litmus test for patriotism. Led, by their all-but-certain nominee for president in 2016, Donald Trump's call for banning Muslims in this country, the party continues to drift toward a theocratic vision for America. And Trump is not the only candidate that is or was running for president with this optic.

Republican presidential candidates Ben Carson and Marco Rubio both extolled Christianity on the campaign trail with Rubio during a Fox News debate in January answering, "Well, let me be clear about one thing, there's only one savior and it's not me. It's Jesus Christ, who came down to Earth and died for our sins."

Moreover, recently Ted Cruz, who has used his Christian faith to justify his anti-gay rhetoric listed Frank Gaffney (confirmed by the Southern Poverty Law center as one of "America's most notorious Islamaphobes") as one of his national security advisers. Now, as the GOP claim Christianity is under attack in this country, their dialogue brings opacity both to their own statements of prejudice and the history of religious freedom in this country.

In the 17th century, British North American colonies were settled by men and women who faced religious persecution. Though some settlers came for more secular reasons to make their fortune a majority sought refuge from Catholicism if they were Protestant or conversely "militant Protestantism" if they were Catholic.

Although these settlers came to America victims of religious persecution, some once here believed that the state had a duty to impose religious uniformity (to save souls of all its citizens) in any given society. With dissenters to be executed as heretics. The dominance of this concept first opposed by Roger Williams, who was a proponent of religious freedom for all and a separation of church and state. As a reformed Baptist, he was considered ahead of his time in his fair dealings with Native Americans (who were seen by most as pagans) and as an early abolitionist against slavery. It is in part why men of his caliber that were to follow had the foresight to include in the Constitution of the United States the "wall" that must exist between church and state and article VI, which states there will be no religious tests to serve in public office or hold the public trust.

In 2016, words like "taking our country back," -- as in back to a time when John F. Kennedy's Catholic faith was in question -- was acceptable. Today to describe terrorist attacks as Islamic terrorism objectify the word Islam has consequences. With over 1.6 billion people who observe the Islamic faith, we are remiss if we do not categorize these attacks as anarchy perpetrated by fringe or outlier groups who in their senseless violence prove they do not follow the teachings of any compassionate religion. And if republicans like Donald Trump, Ted Cruz or others insist on blind allegiance to the phrase Islamic terrorism they have political amnesia.

To ignore past and present acts of murder and mayhem done in the name of Christianity like this country's checkered past in its treatment of Native Americans should not be forgotten. To insist on the phrase Islamic Terrorism only radicalizes those are susceptible anti-Muslim hyperbole and we lose our basic belief that bigotry against any one religion is un-American. For if that should happen the terrorists have already won.