2015: The year when ‘banning’ a religion went mainstream in the US


Originally published in Patheos 

One of the most prominent stories of 2015 has been the circus of the Donald Trump campaign.  It seems Donald Trump will say just about anything to be the center of attention and has been more than willing to cross any line when it comes to violating the American ideal of religious freedom.  We have seen an escalating pattern of anti-Muslim rhetoric from Trump and one has to wonder where he will finally stop.  Last month he suggested that a database of Muslims should be kept so that they can be monitored.  A few weeks ago he suggested “taking out the families” of terrorists, which presumably is an endorsement of killing women and innocent children.  And more recently he has called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States”.

Putting aside the obvious constitutional problems, how would it even be possible to enforce such a policy?  Muslims live in every country of the world and come from many different cultures and ethnic backgrounds, with only 15% being Arabs which is the culture that most Americans associate Muslims with.  So how exactly would one be identified?  Would it be anyone from a Muslim majority country that would be blocked entry?  Even if it was a religious minority, such as a Christian, that was fleeing persecution from extremists?  What if it was a moderate Muslim scholar seeking an opportunity to denounce extremist ideology when he has been silenced by extremists in his native country?  What if it was a convert to Islam, such as myself, that neither “looks like a Muslim”, nor has a “Muslim sounding name”.  Or what if a non-Muslim converts to Islam after coming to America, would he or she then be deported?  What will stop a terrorist from lying about their religion in order to gain entry?   This is clearly a policy that is unenforceable and could potentially lead to a McCarthy style witch hunt.   Presidential candidate Jeb Bush alluded to the ridiculousness of it all by tweeting “Trump is unhinged.  His ‘policy’ proposals are not serious.”

What positive effects does Trump anticipate from such a policy?  Those Americans who hold extreme anti-Muslim views would no doubt feel emboldened and the violence against Muslim Americans would very likely increase even more.  Already there is has been an increase in attacks on Muslims, including against Muslim women and children as well as anyone who is mistaken for a Muslim.  This would only force Muslims to live even more in fear, from both terrorists as well as the angry American public that Trump is trying to rile up.  No doubt, the Muslim countries who have allied with us to fight ISIS would not be thrilled about being demonized, having their citizens discriminated against, and possibly having to shut down their embassies due to their diplomats and staff no longer being welcome in the US.  It would provide a ton of propaganda material for extremists to recruit more to their cause, and play into their false notion that this is a war between Islam and the West, possibly leading to even more young Muslim Americans becoming radicalized.  More than likely this would make the problem worse than it already is.

Such a policy would be counter to America’s tradition of religious freedom.  Thankfully, this has been acknowledged by other Republican candidates and the party in general.  Former VP Dick Cheney said “This whole notion that somehow we can just say no more Muslims, just ban a whole religion, goes against everything we stand for and believe in.  I mean, religious freedom has been a very important part of our history and where we came from.”

Trump has shown a pattern of knee jerk reactions and has a history of trying to make himself the center of attention.   His comments are divisive and only create an atmosphere of fear and distrust.  Senator Marco Rubio pointed out the Trump has a “habit of making offensive and outlandish statements which will not bring Americans together.”  We should not submit to our fears and sacrifice the great principles put forward in the US Constitution.  Religious Freedom is part of what makes America great and we should not be willing to sacrifice this for anything.  Donald Trump should swallow his pride and admit that he is dead wrong and the US Constitution is right.  Real leadership is about standing by our ideals and principles and uniting people, not sacrificing principles and dividing people against one another.

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Richard Reno
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By Richard Reno