In the wake of the recent murders in Paris at least two GOP presidential candidates—Donald Trump and Marco Rubio—have said that American mosques should be shut down because they pose a security risk. The assumption is that mosques serve as breeding grounds for ISIS, the Jihadist extremists who claimed responsibility for the Paris attacks and who have targeted the United States.
Last week Donald Trump said that the United States “will absolutely have no choice” but to close down mosques where “some bad things are happening.” Marco Rubio called for the closing of any place where “radicals are being inspired,” including mosques. Other GOP candidates have not been as overt as Trump and Rubio, but their attacks on the Muslim community in America, and their willingness to conflate all Muslims with ISIS, has been made abundantly clear.
I am sure that Trump and Rubio realize that the closing of mosques, or any other religious institution or place of worship, is a direct violation of the religion clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
Not only are Trump and Rubio calling for the prohibition of the free exercise of religion among Muslims, but they are also implying that the United States is a Christian nation that has the right to threaten the right of non-Christians to worship freely. In other words, they are violating both the free exercise clause and the establishment clause.
How do these Republican presidential candidates justify these policies towards Muslims with their staunch commitments to religious freedom?
Until recently, conservative Christians rarely talked about religious freedom. When writing and speaking about religion and politics, many of them preferred to talk in terms of the United States as a “Christian nation.” Religious liberty was certainly important, and should always be defended, but this was a freedom usually invoked by religious minorities—Jews, Jehovah Witnesses, defenders of Native American spiritual practices—in a country in which Christianity was privileged.
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