Thursday, December 3, 2015

A plea to Trump supporters: Learn what the U.S. Constitution requires about religious freedom

Image result for donald trump

Update 12/7/2015: Donald Trump has proposed to prevent muslims from entering the USA by any means.  If this religion-specific fear-based rhetoric became law, it would violate the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses


Religious Freedom is inherently a minority-protecting prospect.  It was the religious minorities who fled England; it was these minorities who were the Pilgrims, the Shakers, the Quakers, the Catholics, etc., that colonized our nation.

Based off the experiences, in our Constitution, we protect religious freedom in these words:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof"

This means, of course, that the U.S. government can't require the whole nation-- or any one individual--to be Catholic, or Latter-day Saint, or Muslim, or any other faith.  But it also means that the government can't forbid anyone from attending a faith of their choice.  And, by the same token, the government can't make a benefit available to one religion but not others, or revoke benefits from one religion, and not others.

On January 20, 2017, a man or woman will raise their right hand and say: "I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States." This person will be our president for four or eight years, in all likelihood.  No matter who he or she is, we should pray for them.

Now, there are many, many things required of a President, and I am not suggesting any one flaw or asset that any one man or woman has should be dispositive of a vote for this position in a complex world. To be clear: A vote for any candidate for President today is a good faith vote, and no one should be condemned or ridiculed for any vote.  This is equally true in cultures such as my home state of Utah, where many Democrats are unfairly ridiculed.

But that doesn't mean that voters do not have an obligation to learn the qualifications required for President, and vote for a President who will uphold their ideas of good government. In fact, as American Citizens, we are asked to uphold the Constitution too.  New American Citizens are obligated to take an oath to "support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic[.]"

Given this background, findings of a recent poll in New Hampshire are deeply disturbing.  Bear with me while I explain the results:
  • Supporters of the Republican polling leader Donald Trump were asked whether Islamic churches (Mosques) should close in the United States. (The question was worded without mentioning whether the Mosques were of the sort that may encourage terror). A plurality of 49% agreed.  
  • They were also asked whether Muslims should be banned from buying certain kinds of guns.  52% agreed, even though only 20% supported such a ban on sales of these guns to any American.  
  • Last, they were asked whether there should be a database of Muslims in the United States. (again, the question was worded without respect to immigration status). 53% agreed.
With perhaps one exception, supporters of no other Republican candidate shared these views.

{Edit 12/7: Donald Trump has embraced these very views today.} See this Deseret News article for some commentary on that point. That is beside the point of this article, however.

The point is that these Americans should know better. The policies they support clearly violate the First Amendment, and possibly other constitutional provisions as well.

It is obvious where these views come from: a fear of terror. Of course, I oppose terrorism, and I don't deny that many terrorists claim to be Muslim. It is hard to wake up every day with a fear of a war or a terrorist attack, especially so soon after the horrible events in Paris and San Bernardino.

However, most Muslims are not terrorists, and we have ways of preventing terror that don't require us to trample one religion.

Regardless of our situation, Constitutional Rights-- including the freedom of religion-- must operate even when we are afraid.  The very worst time is the time that we must follow the Constitution.*

To those who sympathize with or agree with the Trump supporters who participated in the poll I mentioned: please reconsider your views.  Study history-- what our nation did to Japanese during World War Two, what our nation did to Latter-day Saints in the 1800s, and the reasons why people came to America in the first place. Get to know some people who are from the Middle East.  Learn about American Muslims who are defending the Religious Freedom of Christians. (For example, Asma Uddin) and other committed American Muslims (Saba Ahmed, Sohaib Sultan, Faatimah Knight, and Suzy Ismail, among thousands of others).

Please don't make all religious minorities less safe by undercutting the First Amendment because of an oversized reaction to your legitimate fears.

As always, these thoughts are my own, are intended to help, but do not reflect the position of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Thanks for reading,

*I am grateful to the author of the "Star Wars: Jedi Apprentice" books for putting a similar point in her novels.

1 comment:

  1. For many on the teabaggerized right wing these days, "the Constitution" is just a code phrase for "stuff I'm comfortable with and stuff that enables me to beat up on people I don't like". No one who actually knew the Constitution or why it was written the way it was could claim that such proposals are consistent with it, but their sense of the Constitution is just the Second Amendment and vague "Christian nation" blather.

    It's hard to say whether Trump himself is similarly ignorant or simply exploiting bigotry as part of a quest for power, but in practical terms it hardly matters.

    It's been shown that Trump's support comes mostly from those with the lowest levels of education, and mentally-limited people are prone to be unable to put themselves in someone else's position. This is how people who think they're being persecuted by Starbucks having plain red coffee cups can support totalitarian plans for official harassment of Muslims or gays and never notice the contradiction.