The Left

Islam's not a Religion?

Rick Santorum
Rick Santorum
Richard John "Rick" Santorum, born May 10, 1958, is an American attorney and Republican Party politician. He served as a United States Senator representing Pennsylvania and was the Senate's third-ranking Republican. | Photo: Archives | Rick Santorum, Attorney, Senator, Republican, Pennsylvania,

That's the new anti-First Amendment argument.

As I've mentioned before, some Christian conservatives think the only purpose of the First Amendment is to benefit them — to protect their religion, or their branch of it.

Courts and the federal government haven't been very supportive of that view, so it's not surprising that some right-wingers have a new twist on the old argument: the First Amendment protects other religions, but it definitely doesn't protect Islam. How come? Because the First Amendment is about religion, and Islam isn't a religion.

According to Baptist minister and Georgia politician Jody Hice, for instance, Islam is "a geopolitical system that has government, financial, military, legal and religious components." Rick Santorum likewise asserts that Islam is not a religion, it's "a political and governing structure." Therefore even though Islam has a holy book, a prophet, religious rules, a God and an afterlife, it's not a real religion like Christianity or Judaism.

It's certainly true that Islam's rules apply to more than purely religious matters such as how you pray or how mosques should be run. Islamic law includes guidelines on divorce, marriage, business dealings, drug use, alcohol, women's rights (or lack of same) good government and countless other matters (though as I understand it, different sects of Islam interpret the rules differently). But that's not really different from the other two Abrahamic faiths. The Old Testament, for instance, laid down rules for the Israelites covering everything from good government to good business conduct.

Christianity likewise has had lots to say over the centuries about fair business dealings, good government and what constitutes a just war. For a long time, Christians were forbidden to lend at interest, as that constituted usury. The Catholic Church insisted kings were appointed by divine right and therefore subordinate to the church. The American colonies routinely supported each colony's dominant church with tax money (even from citizens who belonged to a different sect). And legal slavery in the US was justified as Bible-sanctioned.

Even today, Hice, Santorum and many other Christian conservatives look to Christianity to decide what government should do and what the law should be. Hice claims government should be smaller and less intrusive and that Christianity can make that happen. At the same time, he wants government to get intrusive on any issue he cares about such as banning gay marriage and returning state-sponsored prayers to schools. Santorum thinks government should be able to ban abortions, ban birth control and ban homosexuality. He also has no problem with elected officials taking direction from their church when making policy. So apparently neither man has a problem with Christianity becoming a "political and governing structure."

Plenty of right-wingers think Christianity has a lot to say about finance and business. Conservative David Barton has argued that the Bible clearly opposes minimum-wage laws. Right-winger Ralph Reed once wrote that Biblical rules on how slaves should obey their masters apply to how employees should treat their bosses, whom God has placed over them.

It's hard to see any reason Islam's rules make it less of a religion than any other faith. But of course, the real issue for Hice, Santorum and other theocrat-wannabes isn't to religion influencing the government, it's to a religion other than their own influencing the government. Declaring that Muslims have no religious-freedom rights just eliminates a potential source of competition and makes it easy for bigots to discriminate.

This is why I'm glad we do have a First Amendment that does protect every faith, and also limits their ability to oppress others. Religions fighting for government power never works out well for anyone except the winner. Fighting to keep other faiths from having First Amendment protection isn't likely to work out well either. Secular government with guarantees of religious freedom doesn't give us utopia, but it’s better than all the alternatives.

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Updated Apr 22, 2017 5:29 AM EDT | More details

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