Of course, it’s not all that new. We’ve been watching this fester over the last decade. But the venom of the growing anti-Muslim hate campaign — and the willingness to disregard basic religious and civil liberties for American Muslims — should be a shocking development in a nation that has championed religious freedom for more than two centuries. Consider, for example, recent comments by Tennessee’s lieutenant governor, Ron Ramsey:
At a recent event in Hamilton County, Ramsey was asked by a man in the audience about the “threat that’s invading our country from the Muslims.” Ramsey proclaimed his support for the Constitution and the whole “Congress shall make no law” thing when it comes to religion. But he also said that Islam, arguably, is less a faith than it is a “cult.”
“Now, you could even argue whether being a Muslim is actually a religion, or is it a nationality, way of life, cult whatever you want to call it,” Ramsey said. “Now certainly we do protect our religions, but at the same time this is something we are going to have to face.”
This kind of religious bigotry has been growing in prominence in Texas as well. Shortly after the 2006 elections, David Barton of the far-right group WallBuilders wrote that Americans were justifiably concerned that Minnesotans had elected a Muslim, Keith Ellison, to Congress:
“After all, America and Americans are currently the target of attacks by members of the same Islamic faith that Ellison professes; and while Ellison may not hold the same specific beliefs as America’s enemies, he nevertheless holds the same religion. . . . Ellison may not have the same beliefs as the Muslims who openly decry and even attack America; nevertheless, their behavior reflects on him. It is therefore understandable that citizens outside his district are highly concerned.”
So Americans should judge Ellison based on the fact that he shares the same religion as some people who are violent extremists? Would Barton agree, then, that we should judge him based on his past associations with extremist neo-Nazi groups that promote Christian and white supremacy?
And don’t forget that earlier this spring, Barton’s organization Wallbuilders filed a brief in a federal appeals court case claiming that the Constitution’s protections for religious freedom do NOT extend to all faiths. (In Barton’s brief, he argued that the Founders intended only to protect freedom for monotheistic religions such as Christianity, but offered no such protections to followers of polytheistic religions — or atheists).
Barton’s anti-Muslim prejudice is clearly shared by the Rev. Peter Marshall. You might recall that Barton and Marshall both served as so-called “experts” advising the Texas State Board of Education on the revision of social studies curriculum standards last year. Marshall has written plenty about his problems with Islam, including in an online commentary just last week, in which he argues that Islam is Satanic:
“When it comes to the reality of Islam in America, can a good or devout Muslim be a good American? No. The answer, my friends, is a flat ‘no!’ The only Muslim that could possibly be a good American is a Muslim that is non-practicing, or one that is in the process of repudiating Islam. Why? Because Islam is completely incompatible with either Christianity or patriotic Americanism.”
Marshall might live in Massachusetts, but we have our own home-grown anti-Muslim extremists who portray themselves as men of God. Pastor Rick Scarborough of the Texas-based extremist group Vision America has been particularly virulent in his attacks on Islam. In May, for example, he attacked a proposed Islamic community center in New York City blocks from the site of the 9/11 attacks, comparing its Muslim supporters to skinheads and Nazis.
And a tea party group in West Texas is promoting an anti-Muslim fear-mongering campaign by falsely claiming that a proposed charter school has ties to Islamic extremism. Then in June we saw the Texas Republican Party pass a platform with a plank opposing the imposition of Islamic Sharia law in the state. Seriously.
The Handbook of Texas says that Texas has the eighth-largest population of Muslims in the United States. Are they to be the new victims of a right-wing hate campaign? It already seems to be happening.