Cafeteria Constitutionalists

Sometimes you hear an argument so illogical it just leaves you slack jawed in amazement. About 2 weeks ago I had that experience during a discussion on an internet radio show when a couple of very earnest listeners tried to convince me that Islam isn’t a religion and Muslims were not protected by the first amendment. Usually such profound failures in logic are found among the ├╝ber leftist/anti-war crowd, on this day it was from 2 people that professed to believe in the constitution exhorting me to study our founding fathers. Ironic to say the least.

 

The arguments offered to support the view that Islam is not a religion centered around two concepts. The first was that ideals or practices by Muslims were not religious, and therefore Islam was not a religion. The second argument was that Islam was a cult, and therefore not a religion. If the arguers were honest they could have condensed their arguments into one concise point – these people didn’t like Islam, and therefore it wasn’t a religion in their eyes.

 

My counter points revolved around a few simple ideas. The first was that it didn’t matter what ideals or traditions you like or dislike about a religion, it didn’t change the fact that Islam is a religion by both legal and common definition. That argument was unpersuasive. I pointed out most of the objectionable behavior they described was illegal and religion didn’t protect one from criminal prosecution (ie beating your wife is still a crime and didn’t make you Muslim). I did not change a single mind. Even when I demonstrated that the ideals that they found objectionable weren’t practiced by all Muslims, the arguers wouldn’t even conceded the possibility that a good Muslim could exist. I provided links to Muslim scholars that argued that a religious caliphate was wrong, and that misogynistic treatment of women was a crime. The response was that anyone claiming to be Muslims but held any view counter to their stereotype wasn’t a Muslim, but rather a “cafeteria Muslim” and didn’t count.

 

I was stunned. For the “Islam is not a religion” crowd, it didn’t matter if you were moderate, or believed in a secular culture, or were against jihad. For them, if you called yourself a Muslim, they felt you didn’t deserve first amendment protections.

 

Freedom of both speech and religion is a cornerstone of our society, and I’m floored by how quickly some will discard it. Thomas Jefferson wrote “no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burdened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in nowise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.” Jefferson and Madison were strong advocates for religious freedoms. How could an advocate for “founding ideals” not believe in religious freedom?

 

Then it hit me, I was arguing with the same mindset I ran into in San Francisco in 2007 when I got to “meet” some anti-war protesters. Everyone of these people suffered “Bush Derangement Syndrome.” Logic, reason, even human empathy didn’t exist, for this anti-war crew. The rules were for other people, they felt they were right, and that was the end of the argument. The folks arguing that Islam is not a religion had more in common with the anti-war/code pink crowd than I could have ever imagined. Both groups are cafeteria constitutionalists, choosing when and where the constitution applies, according to their whims.

 

President Washington sent the following instructions to his agent for hiring workers to build Mount Vernon “If they be good workmen, they may be from Asia, Africa, or Europe; they may be Mohammedan, Jews, or Christians of any sect, or they may be Atheists.” As a military man Washington understood to his very core that it was the content of character and not religion, or country of origin that defined a man. Surprisingly more than 200 years later some Americans still don’t understand this universal truth.

 

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