Here is an excerpt from Herman Cain, who was asked if he would be comfortable appointing a Muslim either in his cabinet or as a federal judge. His answer:

No, I would not. And here’s why. There is this creeping attempt, there is this attempt to gradually ease Sharia law and the Muslim faith into our government. It does not belong in our government. This is what happened in Europe. And little by little, to try and be politically correct, they made this little change, they made this little change. And now they’ve got a social problem that they don’t know what to do with hardly.

This is an ugly and undiluted form of bigotry. It assumes, against the overwhelming evidence, that every Muslim believes in the most radical interpretation of Sharia law, when in fact millions of American Muslims are fully reconciled with democracy and the protection of minority rights. I’ve dilated on this issue before, so there’s no need to do so again.

This isn’t to say that assimilation isn’t important; it is (see here). Nor is it to deny that there are many people in the world, of the Islamic faith, who embrace a 7th-century, Taliban-like interpretation of Sharia law. No one is asking anyone to bury his head in the ground. But this is quite different from declaring anyone of the Muslim faith to be unqualified for a judgeship or a cabinet post simply because of that person’s religious faith. That is the antithesis of American law and corrosive to the spirit that animated the American founding.

On August 17, 1790, the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island, wrote to President Washington expressing its gratitude that the government of the United States gave “to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.” To which Washington replied, “The Citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy; a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights.”

Washington went on to say:

May the Children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants, while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.

Religious liberty is one of the rare and remarkable achievements by the United States. It was difficult to achieve – and it’s easier to lose than we might think. For public figures to stoke the embers of Muslim bigotry – to believe, in Michael Gerson’s phrase, that every serious Muslim is a recruit for sedition – is a moral offense. And be forewarned: it won’t stay confined. Bigotry rarely does.

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