The religious right would like you to believe that all it wants is to assure a place at the table for Americans with traditional values. To that end, they pipe up at even the slightest hint that federal or state governments want to sanction attempts to “persecute” Christians on account of their faith.
But from time to time, the nation’s so-called moral guardians reveal their true vision for this country–something that would look a lot like ISIS or Afghanistan under the Taliban. We got another reminder of this late last week. A religious right pundit claimed that a Muslim state representative in Pennsylvania had no right to complain about one of her new colleagues opening the session with a preachy and Islamophobic prayer. Why? Wait for it–Christianity is the only acceptable religion in this country.
Late last month, Republican state representative Stephanie Borowicz caused quite a stir when she opened the day’s session with one of the most staggeringly inappropriate invocations in recent memory. In case you missed it, watch here.
Borowicz declared herself an “ambassador” for Jesus–whose name she mentioned at least 13 times–and railed that “we’ve lost sight of you” and “forgotten you” as a nation. She also reminded the audience–which included a considerable number of Jewish and Muslim lawmakers–that “every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that you, Jesus, are Lord.”
This prayer would have been grossly inappropriate on any occasion; indeed, it was better suited to a religious right gathering than a state legislature. But it was especially outrageous since Democrat Movita Johnson-Harrell had just been sworn in as the first Muslim woman to serve in the state house. Johnson-Harrell and her fellow Democrats were understandably upset, claiming that Borowicz’ prayer amounted to a sanction of Islamophobia.
Borowicz didn’t see what the big fuss was about. She claimed that she was praying the same way she always prays, and told Fox News’ Todd Starnes that people were just upset because they know “there’s power in the name of Jesus.” According to People for the American Way’s Right Wing Watch, for the most part the religious right has taken the line that this is just another example of those evil, evil libruls wanting to bully good Christians who want to stand up for their faith in office.
But a more sinister view was taken by Jake and Dominic MacAulay, who helm the Institute on the Constitution, a far-right think tank founded by 2004 Constitution Party presidential candidate Michael Peroutka. In a post at the Institute’s blog, The American View–which was also shared at Matt Barber’s blog, BarbWire–the MacAulays claim that Johnson-Harrell has no room to complain, since the Founding Fathers never intended to sanction Islam in the first place.
Watch an accompanying video commentary here.
The MacAulays claimed that the Pilgrims set the tone for what this country was going to look like in the Mayflower Compact, which stated that they set out for the New World “for the Glory of God, and Advancement of the Christian Faith.” Later, they claimed that during the Revolutionary era and the early days of American independence, the Founding Fathers were unnerved at the prospect of Muslims “taking over America’s Christian value system,” especially since the Barbary Wars were still raging.
To the MacAulays, the writings of two early Supreme Court justices made it clear that the Founders did not see any place for Muslims in government. One was James Iredell, one of the charter members of the Supreme Court. Before then, he was a delegate to the North Carolina constitutional convention of 1788. At that debate, he argued that there was no way the American people would ever elect “Mohammedans”–as Muslims were commonly called at the time–to high office. As Iredell saw it, he didn’t see any scenario in which Americans would “trust their dearest rights to persons who have no religion at all, or a religion materially different from their own.”
The MacAulays also turned to Joseph Story, the longest-serving associate justice in the history of the Supreme Court. In “Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States,” one of the earliest detailed treatises on constitutional law, Story claimed that the First Amendment was not intended to “countenance, much less to advance, Mahometanism (Islam), or Judaism … by prostrating Christianity.” Rather, he claimed, it was intended to “exclude all rivalry among Christian sects.”
So on that basis, the MacAulays claimed that “the intent of our founders was not to sanction religions outside of Christianity.” After all, they said, Christianity is the sole religion that brings “liberty and freedom to all mankind who are created in God’s image.”
But there’s one problem with that argument. It has no basis in the historical record. For instance, Thomas Jefferson recalled that while the Virginia General Assembly was debating his landmark statute on religious freedom, one delegate wanted to amend it so it would effectively only protect Christians. However, that amendment was “rejected by a great majority” who wanted to protect all religions, Christian and non-Christian alike.
Likewise, when Benjamin Franklin praised the building of a new meeting-house in Philadelphia in 1739, he noted it was intended for Christians and non-Christians. And, of course, there’s the matter of Article VI of the Constitution, which explicitly forbids religious tests. So contrary to what the MacAulays would have you believe, it’s pretty clear that the Founding Fathers did indeed intend to sanction all faiths, not just Christianity.
This is yet another example of the alternative history that has been peddled by the religious right for some time. They would have us believe that the Founders were devout Christians who wanted this to be a Christian nation. We’ve already seen one example of this, when Borowicz claimed Franklin would have prayed exactly as she did. Never mind that Franklin was more deist than Christian.
And now the MacAulays would have us believe that if we followed the Founders’ example, we would tell non-Christians to sit down and shut up. But any claim that the Founders would sanction this line doesn’t withstand serious analysis. Then again, the religious right has been peddling alternative facts on this and related issues since long before “alternative facts” was even a term.
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