Eugene T. Paslov: Right wing using freedom of religion as wedge issue
The right-wing Congressional Republicans are at it again, neither constructive nor entertaining with their Islamophobic attitudes. They are joined by Fox News and AM radio talkaholics, ranting about that which they appear to know little. Not to put too fine a point on the issue, but those who have marginal knowledge of our Constitution and history are easily manipulated by fear and hatred, truly toxic elements in politics.
The First Amendment of our Constitution is clear: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for redress of grievances.” The First Amendment was ratified on December 15, 1791; and it doesn’t say anything about excluding Muslims.
Our nation takes great pride in our over 240 years of Constitu-
tional freedoms. These freedoms have come at great cost of life and treasure. Our founders were clear about separating church and state (“make no law respecting an establishment of religion …”) For some founders, religion may have been an important part of their personal life, but was to be separate from the government they founded. They had escaped from state-sponsored religion in Europe and didn’t want to see it reappear in our new country. For others, religion was of interest as a philosophical area of study. (Thomas Jefferson was fascinated by many different religions and even had his own Quran.)
Our Constitution provides for a non-sectarian government (our state Constitution as well), not a sectarian one – Judeo/Christian or otherwise. People are free to practice any religion they wish, or none at all, as they see fit.
There is a current debate about building a Muslim community center in Manhattan, several blocks away from ground zero. This local zoning issue has erupted into a political attack on President Obama and anyone else who supports freedom of religion involving Muslims.
The Congressional Republican Senators and House members plan to use the President’s support of our Constitutional freedom of religion as a wedge issue for the mid-term elections. Fear and hatred are the tools some use to win elections. Unfortunately, sometimes these are the tools that work. Hopefully, most Americans appreciate and understand our freedoms.
• Eugene Paslov is a board member of the Davidson Academy at the University of Nevada, Reno and the former Nevada state superintendent of schools.