There should have been absolutely no controversy in a resolution presented in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives this past week.
Speaker Dennis O’Brien, a Republican from Philadelphia, wanted to honor the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, which was holding its 60th annual national convention in Harrisburg. These resolutions are routine and almost always noncontroversial. The resolution pointed out that the organization’s purpose was to “increase faith and harmony and introduce various humanitarian, social and religious services.” But that wasn’t what angered Rep. Daryl Metcalf, a five term Republican from north of Pittsburgh. “The Muslims do not recognize Jesus Christ as God,” he declared indignantly, and said he would vote against the resolution.
Now, normally, Rep. Metcalf’s views would be heard—and dismissed as a bigoted attack. But this is Pennsylvania politics. So, Rep. Gordon Denlinger, a Republican from Lancaster, felt he had to talk. “Certainly this nation went through an attack some years ago that is well-burned into the subconscious of our society,” he said, and then emphasized, “What I sense on our floor today is that, for some people, this evokes very strong passion and emotion.” Apparently, Denlinger never considered that all religions, including Christianity, have violent extremists.
Nevertheless, on Denlinger’s suggestion, the full House sent the resolution to committee, where it would ultimately die long after the weekend convention. The nonsense in the House isn’t isolated.
Voluminous lies and exaggerations about Sen. Barack Obama permeate the conservative talk shows, e-mails, and Internet. From bitterness dripping in an equal amount of invective and stupidity, we are told that Obama is a radical Muslim “mole” who is waiting to take over America, that he attended Muslim schools and was indoctrinated in that faith, that he switched to Christianity solely to get elected to office, and that he took his oath of office by placing his hand on a Koran.
Obama’s supporters aren’t much better than the liars from the misnamed “right.” Their vigorous defense of the probable Democratic nominee is that Obama isn’t a Muslim but really a Christian; his staff has even gone to great lengths to distance Obama from any possibility that he could have any connection to Islam. Apparently, being a Christian is more tolerable, certainly more acceptable, than being a Muslim, a Jew, or a believer of any other religion.
Sen. John McCain, the probable Republican nominee for president, agrees. “Since this nation was founded primarily on Christian principles, I prefer someone who I know who has a solid grounding in my faith. But that doesn’t mean that I’m sure that someone who is Muslim would not make a good president. I don’t say that we would rule out under any circumstances someone of a different faith. I just . . . feel that that’s an important part of our qualifications to lead.”
Disagreeing with Sen. McCain and millions of Americans are the Founding Fathers, most of whom were Deists; some were agnostics; a few were Christians or Jews. “[T]he Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion,” according to Article 11 of The Treaty of Tripoli, written near the end of George Washington’s presidency, unanimously approved by the Senate, and signed by John Adams in June 1797. That same treaty also established that the United States “has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquillity [sic], of Mussulmen; and, as the said States never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.”
The Treaty itself was an extension of the principles enunciated within the Constitution. Article VI, Section 3 of the Constitution is clear that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” The First Amendment assures not only a separation of church and state, but the right of any person to practice any religion—or no religion. Thomas Jefferson said that his Bill for Religious Liberty in Virginia was “meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and the Mahometan, the Hindu, and infidel of every denomination.”
George Washington, the year after his inauguration, wrote the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, R.I., to tell them that “happily the government of the United States . . . gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance. . . . Everyone shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.”
Explaining what James Madison and the other Founding Fathers intended, Jefferson as president in 1802 wrote, “I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between church and state.” The Supreme Court of the United States twice used Jefferson’s argument to rule that the Constitution, although it doesn’t specifically spell it out, does include an “establishment clause” to preserve the separation of church and state.
Abraham Lincoln later quashed all attempts to create a Constitutional amendment that would have established America not only as a Christian nation, but would impose Christianity as the official state religion. Nevertheless, the action of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, the blathermouths who populate talk radio and the Internet, and the apologists who whine that Sen. Obama is really a 100 percent genuine practicing Christian, make it obvious that a large part of Americans not only fail to appreciate the structure of what is America, but in their own misguided form of Christianity fail to understood the values of the Jew named Jesus Christ.
[Walter Brasch is professor of journalism at Bloomsburg University and president of the Pennsylvania Press Club. He is senior author of the critically-acclaimed The Press and the State, and author of ‘Unacceptable’: The Federal Response to Hurricane Katrina (January 2006) and Sinking the Ship of State: The Presidency of George W. Bush (November 2007), available through amazon.com and other bookstores. You may contact Brasch at firstname.lastname@example.org or through his website at: www.walterbrasch.com.]