American religious extremism has been around since this country’s inception. Jefferson saw where it failed in Europe and decided to be quite clear on how great of an idea a secular government would be. In 1802, Thomas Jefferson spoke directly of the wall of separation of church and state in his letter to the Danbury Baptists. Not only did our founders have strong opinions on this matter, but the U.S. Supreme Court has held this distinction up for more than a hundred years.
The Supreme Court declared in 1947 that, “Neither a state nor the Federal Government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion to another… That wall must be kept high and impregnable. We could not approve the slightest breach.” President Ronald Reagan also strongly embraced the separation of church and state when he said, “We establish no religion in this country. We command no worship. We mandate no belief, nor will we ever. Church and state are and must remain separate.”
So why are we continually seeing a breach in that wall? Republicans time and again have passed laws that allow business owners to discriminate against employees and customers if their life styles infringe on the owners’ so-called “religious liberties.” The most recent anti-LGBTQ+ law passed in Mississippi is called the Religious Accommodation Act. These laws are establishing a connection from biblical law to our Constitution.
Meanwhile, to distract people, Republicans have passed anti-Sharia laws. Sharia law is the legal code for the Islamic faith. This is simply ridiculous. First, the Constitution and the Supreme Court have long upheld the secular view of government. Second, why? Are there a lot of Muslims in power in this country? Is Islam a new threat? Possibly, if you are living in a paranoid shell with Fox News getting pumped into your ears every day, but other than that it’s so unnecessary. Oklahoma recently passed an anti-Sharia law in 2010 and several other states have passed similar laws. Maybe it would be wise to reflect on Christian theocracy instead of conspiracy theories that Islam is a huge threat.
Also, if you haven’t heard, Republican front-runners are openly Islam-phobic and proud of it. Ben Carson, the neurosurgeon who didn’t understand what Marbury v. Madison was and believed that the pyramids were full of grain, said that he would not advocate that a Muslim be president. His apparent fear was that the Muslim president would try and enact religious law. Strange, why doesn’t he have a problem with, say, Christians doing something like that? This rampant hypocrisy is so ingrained in this political topic.
Trump is on the same page, and so are many Americans. The proposed ban on all Muslims entering the United States is gathering a scary amount of popularity. A third of Donald Trump supporters in Iowa believe Islam should be illegal. According to the Intercept, a majority of Americans now support Trump’s proposed ban on Muslims. Decades of media propaganda and fear mongering have taken its toll on the American population. First it was the “savage” native Americans and blacks, next the reds over in Russia and China, and now it’s Muslims and Mexicans. Some could argue this includes every other group that doesn’t hold political sway.
This whole debate is based around supporting homophobic and transphobic laws on one end, and pumping the airwaves full of Islam-phobic craziness on the other while never reflecting on the serious matter. The religious right, emboldened in the 1980s by the rise of the Moral Majority, and then bolstered by 9/11 and the election of Barack Hussein Obama, have become far too extreme. These anti-LGBTQ+ laws and anti-sharia laws are just a further representation of how out of touch Republicans are with the current cultural climate. Some have spoken up, like South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who recently spoke out against a proposed anti-transgender bathroom bill. Even Republican White House candidate John Kasich seems skeptical about the so-called bathroom bills.
Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, and Bobby Jindal can go on the same stage as Pastor Kevin Swanson, who openly supports the death penalty for homosexuality. But don’t worry, Pastor Swanson has said he will give them time to repent. Donald Trump can go on air and say that women should be punished for abortions. These are presidential candidates. After decades of religious fundamentalism taking over half the government we are seeing a push back. The Supreme Court declared bans on same-sex marriage as unconstitutional, but we have a long way to go. There are brave activists out there fighting injustice every step of the way. We must, as a society, band together against fear and hatred in order to stand up for secularism and progress.
Mark Kobzik is a junior majoring in English/journalism.