Showing an extreme ignorance of Islam, the Constitution, and religion in general on Fox News Sunday, presidential candidate and former CEO Herman Cain stated that communities have a “right” to ban mosques as Islam “combines church and state” and is a “set of laws.” Even with his pattern of Islamophobia, including saying in the past that he “will not” appoint a Muslim to his cabinet or the federal bench, this is frightening and extreme. He objects to anyone in American public office being sworn in on the Quran saying that anyone in his administration will be sworn in on the bible.
The fear of those who oppose the building of an Islamic center in Tennessee is that allowing mosque construction might create not just religious but civil institutions of law that will allow Sharia law into the courts. When Mr. Cain was pressed about his position on Fox News Sunday he fell back on his frequent refrain, “American laws in American courts” implying that the construction of the Islamic center was somehow opposed to that principle. Sharia law infecting the American legal system is the core rallying cry at the moment of the anti-Islam movement. Mr. Cain’s concern about Muslim appointments seems to stem from his belief that, “there is this creeping attempt … to gradually ease Sharia law and the Muslim faith into our government.” He has stated he would appoint a Muslim who would disavow Sharia law, but added that he does not know any Muslims willing to do so. This shows a severe misunderstanding of both Islam and the Constitution. Article VI of the Constitution protects from religious tests to hold public office, exactly what Mr. Cain seems to be is proposing.
Luckily, critics of Islamophobia and supporters of religious freedom are speaking up. From Southern Baptist leader Richard Land, a pro-life conservative, who came out against Mr. Cain’s words and said he “would respectfully encourage him to read the First amendment to the Constitution.” To progressive columnist Eugene Robinson who wrote a piece in response to Mr. Cain’s words entitled, “Stand up to Herman Cain’s Bigotry” where he shows how ludicrous Mr. Cain’s fear of Sharia law is by pointing that it would, “[make] as much sense to worry that the Amish will force us all to commute by horse and buggy.”
Interfaith Alliance president and State of Belief host Rev. Welton Gaddy wrote a letter to Cain requesting,
“Please, for the sake of our democracy and for the integrity of religion, I urge you to temper your rhetoric, to cease your attacks on Islam. Though it surely is not your intention, such sweeping attacks and gross as well as erroneous generalizations threaten all American Muslims including those you recognize as “a peaceful group” and demean the historically documentable fairness of the American people.”
Islamophobic sentiment scares me, but the responses that Mr. Cain’s latest statements evoked and the constant signs of progress that do happen even in a time when so much ignorance exists give me hope. I find it comforting to remember that even at the height of the misinformation and misunderstanding around the Park 51 controversy (the “Ground Zero Mosque”) 76% of Americans said that they supported the construction of a Mosque or Islamic center in their hometowns. Fear of Islam will need to be battled using knowledge over ignorance and by standing up for our fellow citizens. Hopefully we can all work to reduce Islamophobic rhetoric in the campaign and sentiment as a nation.
For a discussion between Rev. Gaddy and the Director of Policy and Programs at Human Rights First, Ted Stahnke, which covers Tensions around Islam in America click here (Please note, this is an extended version of the interview originally broadcast nationwide.)