America’s Only Book

America is interested in only one book, the Bible. If you are incapable of taking an oath on that book, don’t serve in Congress.

Eric Prager and Sean Hannity are mixing up two very distinct and equally important issues when they discuss their concerns about Representative Keith Ellison’s decision to take his swearing-in photos with a copy of the Quran, rather than the Bible.

Those issues are the role that religion plays in American life today, and the relationship we in this country should have with Islamist terrorists.

In this country, there are certain groups that tend to commit terrorist acts. Two that come to mind are anti-abortion activists and followers of radical Islam. It is right and good to find ways to identify terrorists before they strike. I do not know what the profile for anti-abortion activists might be (perhaps white, middle-aged men and women with blue eyes?), but I can say that Islamist radicals are all followers of Islam, and mostly have the physical characteristics that brings to mind the word Arab. The vast majority of the followers of Islam do not commit acts of terrorism, but a large chunk of the people that commit terrorism are of that faith. It is inconvenient but appropriate to take extra care to ensure that terrorists do not hide behind the more honest members of their faith and racial characteristics.

Both Hannity and Prager support this concept, and it is a good idea. The moderate leaders of Islam in this country haven’t bolstered confidence through any public denouncement of terrorists acts by their brethren, and in the minds of the fearful and uneducated “one Arab (or even Sikh, sadly enough) looks like another.” I’m not advocating interment camps here, but I don’t think that recognizing statistical reality is a bad thing. (I also think it’s appropriate, although likely more difficult, when it comes to anti-abortion activists and other terrorists.) However, I also think it’s obvious that Hannity, in particular, is letting his anxiety over our resistance to profiling cloud his judgment on this issue.

Hannity quotes Prager as saying that this decision “will embolden Islamic extremists and make new ones, and they’ll see it as the first sign and realization of a greatest goal, which is the, you know, making Islam the religion of America.” They are, of course, quite mistaken if they think that this country is so weak that it will tremble by allowing the concept of “freedom of religion” to be completely experienced. It’s an understandable viewpoint; the United States was founded by Christians escaping persecution by other Christians, so it’s generally understood that the crafters of the Constitution did not anticipate religions that didn’t maintain Jesus as Messiah ever entering the picture. They view this as change, and not a terribly healthy one at that. They are fearful of radical Islam, which concerns me as well, but they allow this fear to cast doubt on this great country in their eyes.

Like it or not, the Constitution is a living document. This doesn’t mean that you can rewrite it, like the Supreme Court tried to do with eminent domain last year. It does mean, however, that it was designed to adapt to the wider circumstances that a flourishing future exposes it to. In a time when all religion in this country was Christian (since the locals had been shot or killed by smallpox), separation of church and state, as well as freedom of religion, were more focused: the government could not declare a state religion and could not ban a religion from practicing. Now that we have many faiths in this great land, some conservative Christians feel that these very freedoms threaten this country. Curious. I have more faith in our Constitution than they do, apparently.

Prager’s core premise is that, “This book is the book from which America gets its values in the final analysis.” No, Mr. Prager, this is not the case; our values are based upon human values, which just happened to be most prominently represented by the Bible at the time of this great nation’s founding. Are you suggesting that the followers of Islam practice cannibalism, or that Hindus believe in incest? Do you think there is a culture out there that encourages murder? And for that matter, where in the Bible can you find the fundamental freedoms of our Bill of Rights so clearly spelled out? I doubt the Church would have encouraged freedom of assembly, and we can ask Copernicus what they thought of freedom of speech!

Hannity, Prager, and those in their camp need to accept, finally, that there are people out there who do not believe as they do but happen to be good people nonetheless. I know it’s tough if you’re brought up in an Abrahamic faith to think of a nonbeliever anything beyond ignorant, at best, but here in the United States of America our founding fathers saw fit to give us a document that was stronger than your simple, fearful views.

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