freedom of religion

Donald Trump’s Religious Bigotry Isn’t New, But It’s Still Dangerous

This piece originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

A disloyal religionA religion that mandates violenceA religion incompatible with freedomA religion intent on overthrowing the governmentA religion that’s not a religion but a political movement.

Such smears were used for years in American politics to attack Roman Catholics, and Catholic immigrants in particular. In the 19th century, rioters attacked Catholic churches and homes, and an entire political party was created based on the fear of a Catholic plot to undermine America. The Ku Klux Klan reorganized in the early 20th century in part by using anti-Catholicism to recruit members

While John F. Kennedy’s 1960 Houston speech on the separation of church and state and his subsequent election were seen as turning points, religious bigotry never went away in American politics; the targets simply shifted, as the very same attacks once hurled against Catholics are now being used to demonize and marginalize Muslims. 

This year, Donald Trump showed once again that religious bigotry remains an effective and destructive way for politicians to foment hate and win political power.

Muslims were among Trump’s top targets of scorn and ridicule in his successful presidential bid. He falsely claimed that Muslims took to the streets by the thousands to celebrate 9/11; declared that “Islam hates us”; repeated a debunked story about Muslims refusing to report the terrorists behind the San Bernardino attack; proposed banning all Muslims from entering the U.S.; considered a Muslim registry and databasebaselessly alleged that around one out of three Muslims were ready to go to war against the U.S.; and praised a general who he said massacred his Muslim detainees with bullets washed in pigs’ blood. 

Trump’s attacks against America’s Muslim community capitalized on existing anti-Muslim bigotry that has been diligently spread by a network of far-right groups. But he brought those bigoted ideas to a far wider audience, feeding anti-Muslim conspiracy theories directly into the national media. Unsurprisingly, his election has led to a spike in attacks against Muslim-Americans.

On the campaign trail, Trump surrounded himself with anti-Muslim conspiracy theorists like Michael Flynn, who is now set to be his national security adviser, and Steve Bannon, whom he has named his top White House strategist.

Flynn, a board member of the anti-Islam group ACT for America, has described Islam as “a cancer” and “a political ideology” that “hides behind this notion of it being a religion.” If Islam isn’t a religion, activists like Flynn believe, then Muslims shouldn’t receive First Amendment protections.

On his Twitter page in August, Flynn posted a video that said “ISIS is practicing Islam to the letter.” He has tweeted that Muslim leaders must “declare their Islamic ideology sick.” “Fear of Muslims is RATIONAL,” he said in one tweet promoting a video that said Islam “wants 80% of humanity Enslaved or EXTERMINATED.” 

Before joining Trump’s team, Bannon ran the ultraconservative website Breitbart, which he boasted was the “platform for the Alt-Right,” a racist and xenophobic movement. Under Bannon’s leadership, Breitbart was dominated by stories about the purported dangers of Muslims, and promoted the Alt-Right narrative that the West is engaged in a civilizational war with the Islamic world.

This rhetoric, incidentally, plays into the very message that terrorist groups like ISIS are attempting to promote: that their version of Islam is the only true one and that they are engaged in a civilizational battle against the West. Mara Revkin and Ahmad Mhidi noted in Foreign Affairs over the summer that Trump’s rhetoric had the potential to be a valuable recruiting tool for these groups. Both ISIS and Al Qaeda celebrated Trump’s win by claiming that it validated their claim that the U.S. hates Muslims.

Even before his inauguration, Trump’s religious bigotry is wreaking real damage on America, undermining national security and giving the green light to a wave of assaults against Muslim-Americans.

Perhaps Trump can learn from Abraham Lincoln, a man he claims to admire, who called out as hypocrites politicians who claimed to believe in liberty while seeking to exclude Catholics and immigrants from fully taking part in American society.

Judging by his pick of advisers, however, it seems unlikely that President Trump will be that much different than the man we saw on the campaign trail, a man willing to sow divisions and ratchet up bigotry no matter the cost.

PFAW

Memo to House Republicans: Slogans Don’t Create Jobs

Later today, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA.) will bring to the house floor a non-binding resolution that reaffirms “In God We Trust” as the official motto of the United States. The move might not fit with the House Republicans’ insistence that their legislative agenda will focus solely on jobs, spending and deregulation, but it shouldn’t surprise political observers. Indeed, it’s now been 301 days since House Republicans took power, and they’ve yet to bring a comprehensive jobs bill to the floor. “In God We Trust,” meanwhile, has been the official motto of the United States since 1956, and it will remain the motto with or without this meaningless vote.

The arguments used to justify the vote are laughable. According to Roll Call, Rep. Randy Forbes (R-VA.), who is sponsoring the legislation, believes the resolution is needed because President Obama once referred to “E Pluribus Unum” as the country’s motto. Additionally, Rep. Forbes asserts that the motto is absent from sections of the Capitol Visitor Center.

Back in May, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH.) reportedly told The Hill, “We’re pretty well committed to the House doing substantive work on the floor of the House.” The Speaker has also taken issue with “all of the commemorative resolutions that used to be brought to the floor of the House, some of them I thought were quite meaningless.” It’s difficult to see how a non-binding resolution reaffirming a motto doesn’t qualify as “meaningless.” It’s time for House Republicans to stop with frivolous resolutions and start working with Democrats to pass meaningful legislation to boost our economy.

PFAW

The House GOP's Aboogaboogaboogabooga Constitution

For the past few decades, Republicans have aggressively and notoriously acted as if only they love the flag, only they appreciate families, only they are religious, and only they care about national defense. In the past couple of years, inspired by the Tea Party, they've added a new object to which they falsely lay sole claim: the United States Constitution.

Of course, for many of them, it's little more than a fetish. After all, the Republican Party's Constitution has long denied the right to abortion (and, in many cases, the right to privacy altogether), denied church-state separation, denied the right to vote, and denied equality under the law for LGBT people. The Tea Party's version of the Constitution is even more removed from the real thing, as analyzed in a recent PFAW report, Corporate Infusion: What the Tea Party's Really Serving America.

So it's no surprise that House Republicans' latest effort to lay claim to the Constitution – requiring bill sponsors to submit statements specifying the constitutional authority for their legislation – has turned out to be meaningless. As reported by Congressional Quarterly (subscription required):

During a Feb. 11 subcommittee markup on a bill (HR 358) offered by Joe Pitts, R-Pa., to prohibit federal funds from being used to pay for health insurance that covers abortion, New York Democrat Anthony Weiner offered a point of order against the legislation on grounds that its "statement of constitutional authority" does not point to any specific authority for Congress to take such action.

The bill's statement says: "The Protect Life Act would overturn an unconstitutional mandate regarding abortion in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act," last year's health care overhaul.

The markup soon became chaotic as lawmakers clashed for nearly an hour over whether the statement passed muster, and whether the Republicans were flouting their own rule. "The rules are the rules, and the Constitution is the Constitution," Weiner exclaimed.

Eventually, Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., consulted the Rules Committee, which in January issued a handy guide to complying with the new rule. The Rules Committee provided guidance on how statements of constitutional authority might be phrased, but said the only requirement is that a statement be submitted.

"The question of whether the statement is sufficient is a matter for debate and a factor that a member may consider when deciding whether to support the measure," Upton said.

The committee's top Democrat, Henry A. Waxman of California, called that “a mockery” of the rules. "The ruling is that it doesn't make any difference what you say,” he said. “You could say, 'Aboogaboogaboogabooga!' and that's enough to justify the constitutionality of the proposal."

The Constitution that established a careful separation of powers, an independent court system, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, the eradication of slavery, and equality for all is far too precious a document to become just a symbol in meaningless political posturing. Shame on the House Republicans.

PFAW

You Can Have Your Freedom of Religion, But You Can’t Exercise It

This afternoon, the “yes, the Constitution grants freedom of religion, but this time you’d better not use it” argument has gained its newest, and most disappointing, adherent.

Under pressure from his ultra right-wing opponent in the Nevada senate race, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid paid lip service to the First Amendment while stating his opposition to the building of a Muslim community center a few blocks from Ground Zero in lower Manhattan:

"The First Amendment protects freedom of religion," Reid spokesman Jim Manley said in a statement. "Sen. Reid respects that but thinks that the mosque should be built someplace else."

Reid is the most senior Democrat to come out in opposition to the mosque.

It perhaps shouldn’t come as a surprise that hoards of Republican elected officials who live far from New York have come out against what the Right Wing has branded the “Ground Zero Mosque.” It was, after all, Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich who turned what was a New York City zoning issue into a national fit of misinformed intolerance.

But it’s deeply disappointing to realize we’ve reached the point where the most powerful Democrat in the Senate is parroting Right Wing talking points at the expense of defending basic American values and constitutional rights.

The Right’s extremist machine has tried to make intolerance and xenophobia a noisy election year issue. When someone like Reid gives them cover for their cynical ploy, they begin to succeed.


 

PFAW

Olympic Fever at People For

The Olympics begin today -- with some very personal excitement at People For. David Banks, the son of Executive Vice President Marge Baker, is competing on the U.S. Olympic rowing team in Beijing. I know many of us will be up in the wee hours cheering for David and the team, and looking for a glimpse of Marge and her family in the crowd. This year, American viewers of the Olympics can expect to see a lot of ads for our presidential candidates, bringing our domestic politics more noticeably into an event that always strikes me as a complicated mix of internationalist spirit and patriotic rooting for the home team. And here in the U.S. we'll go pretty much straight from the Olympics into the political parties' nominating conventions and into the final sprint toward Election Day.
PFAW

Olympic Fever at People For

The Olympics begin today -- with some very personal excitement at People For. David Banks, the son of Executive Vice President Marge Baker, is competing on the U.S. Olympic rowing team in Beijing. I know many of us will be up in the wee hours cheering for David and the team, and looking for a glimpse of Marge and her family in the crowd. This year, American viewers of the Olympics can expect to see a lot of ads for our presidential candidates, bringing our domestic politics more noticeably into an event that always strikes me as a complicated mix of internationalist spirit and patriotic rooting for the home team. And here in the U.S. we'll go pretty much straight from the Olympics into the political parties' nominating conventions and into the final sprint toward Election Day.
PFAW