Friday, September 10, 2010

James Madison and Religious Liberty for All by Brian Kaylor

As the debate surrounding a proposed Islamic cultural center in New York City continues to heat up, politicians across the county are attempting to use the issue to score political points. The center, often inaccurately called the “Ground Zero mosque,” will not actually be at Ground Zero and will not be just a mosque. Yet, even some of Virginia’s politicians recently have joined in and condemned the project, as if their opposition should make more Virginians want to vote for them.

Republican congressional candidates Robert Hurt and Keith Fimian have both spoken out against the proposed center and called on their Democratic opponents (Representatives Tom Perriello and Gerry Connolly) to join them in opposition. Fimian even inexplicably claimed this was not “a question of … religious freedom” even though it seems to me that he only opposes the center because it is a Muslim organization.

Virginia Statute
Sadly, this kind of opposition to the proposed center represents an abandonment of the wisdom of Virginia’s James Madison and Thomas Jefferson. These two Founding Fathers deserve much of the credit for the passage of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, which served as a model for First Amendment’s religious protections. The Virginia Statue for Religious Freedom was so important to Jefferson that he had it, instead of his U.S. presidency, commemorated on his tombstone

James Madison strongly believed the nation must provide for “the freedom of religious opinion & worship” for “every sect.” More importantly, Madison wrote in a letter to Jefferson that one positive result of the U.S. Constitution was that it “opened a door for Jews Turks & infidels.”

Madison’s view of freedoms for Turks—his century’s term for Muslims—should serve as an important model for today’s politicians. Madison knew that religious liberty for all would make both government and religion stronger, and he correctly predicted that religion would flourish in this country because it was kept separate from government.

Rather than demonizing a faith to gain a political advantage, politicians would do well to heed the wisdom of the ‘father of the Constitution.’ America remains a highly religious nation today precisely because of the religious freedoms James Madison and Thomas Jefferson struggled to implement over two centuries ago. To argue that Muslims cannot build a center blocks away and out of eyesight from Ground Zero is to strip these citizens of their fundamental American rights.

Houses of worship must not be used as political footballs in America. We are taking a dark and dangerous path once we start limiting religious liberty. People of all faiths must stand up for religious liberty for all. We must demand that our politicians stand up for the basic tenets of American Constitutional democracy. And if they will not, then we must not elect them to an office where they are supposed to uphold the Constitution.

--Dr. Brian T. Kaylor is a former pastor who teaches political communication at James Madison University and is the author of a forthcoming book on religion and politics

1 comment:

  1. Thank you. So well said. I am the choir but I have hope others could read this and come to an understanding of what is at stake for everyone.