Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The First Amendment is Under Siege

A dangerous attack on the American Bill of Rights has begun to show up on right wing blogs. Some posts go so far as to advocate denying First Amendment protection to the Muslim faith. Others go further and assert, "In America we must start by banning Islam and outlawing Muslim schools and the Quran. Then we must deport or imprison those who teach and/or practice Islam." These attitudes are intolerable.

No one has the right to decide whether another American's belief system is a religion. The words of the First Amendment, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion," precludes our government from discriminating against any religions. What could be a worse discrimination against a specific belief system than to legislate that it doesn't "qualify" as a religion at all.

We have a responsibility to judge individuals by their actions, not by the books they read. For example, when the United States decided to outlaw polygamy, Mormons were simply forbidden to follow the (then current) dictates of their book. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints certainly wasn't disqualified as an American religion. When the United States decided that the government's responsibility toward the health of it's children trumped the religious beliefs of their parents, and instituted court-ordered blood transfusions, Jehovah's Witnesses weren't disqualified to be a religion.

Whatever any of us believe about the tenets of the Muslim faith, it isn't anyone's place to judge their neighbor's religious beliefs, and American citizens who are Muslim are entitled to the same constitutional protections as any other American - including the practice of their religion, and obviously, not being deported. This paranoia reminds me of America's imprisoning 70,000 United States citizens during World War II - among a total of 117,000 of Japanese descent who were detained in so-called "relocation centers." Haven't we grown up since then?

Good books don't always inspire good behavior either. Judging from its messages of compassion, Buddhism should be the world's most peaceful major religion. The world's 350 million Buddhists are generally among the least aggressive, but not always. The recent violent rioting in Bangkok shows that religious messages of peace do not always override human nature. Thailand is 95% Buddhist.

What's the point of this post? Simply that people will always be people. Whether they read books with messages of peace or books that endorse wrath and vengeance, most people are usually peaceful, but circumstances sometimes push people to violence, and a few people will always be obsessively addicted to violence.

This opinion piece isn't only a comment about Islam. If we were to discriminate against Muslims, who's next, Scientologists? Jehovah's Witnesses? Mormons? Japanese? I'm saddened when fundamentalists of any faith advocate wrath and vengeance, but I support everyone's right to their books, their beliefs, and all their rights as United States citizens. This is a plea for all to put aside fear and prejudice, and to respect our American Bill of Rights and our American way of life.

Personally, I am inspired by Jesus' message of love and by the Buddha's call for universal compassion - Hate is never conquered by hate, Hate is only conquered by love. I am saddened by how many have chosen words of wrath and vengeance as the basis of their religions. Nonetheless, I stand committed to judge individuals by their actions rather than by the books they read.

No comments:

Post a Comment