Apparently some Republican lawmakers need some convincing that the world’s second-largest faith is indeed a religion deserving of Constitutional protection. Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey is currently running in the state’s Republican gubenatorial primary, stated publicly that Islam is arguably less a faith than a cult. “Now, you could even argue whether being a Muslim is actually a religion, or is it a nationality, way of life, cult whatever you want to call it”. And the GOP wonders why it can’t seem to kick its image of being a party that panders to xenophobia.
Ramsey’s comments also shine some light on the particular vision of constitutional understanding currently functioning as the party’s base. In particular, Ramsey touted his support for First Amendment freedom of religion guarantees, placing them in the same category as Second Amendment rights and the Tenth Amendment. Elevating the Tenth Amendment in political rhetoric has become popular among the far-right wing of the Republican base who view the Amendment as their salvo for such oppressive federal initiatives as Social Security, the minimum wage, and, most recently, federal health care reform.
Perhaps the most tone-deaf part of Ramsey’s comments came later when he called on American Muslims to denounce extremism in their ranks. “My concern is that far too much of Islam has come to resemble a violent political philosophy more than peace-loving religion. It is time for American Muslims who love this country to publicly renounce violent jihadism and to drum those who seek to do America harm out of their faith community.” Just like many Americans have asked Republican lawmakers to denounce the violent rhetoric spewing from its fringe elements, right Lt. Gov. Ramsey?
Reports have Ramsey polling in third place in the primary, so, like other contested primary races, Ramsey’s statements may reflect efforts to salvage his campaign by playing to the lowest common denominator in the Republican base. Primary voters are notoriously less moderate, on both the right and the left, than voters in general elections. But even that hope is of little reassurance given that Ramsey’s sentiments are echoed in more and more Republican candidates.
Finally, it is important to reinforce that our constitutional protections are not selective for only a privileged group of folks–or at least, they are not designed to be. Ramsey’s statements reflect a troubling trend in the conservative movement to deny fundamental rights and protections to this country’s diversifying population. But if these are the views that are translating into a national platform, then it is time for the GOP to stop calling foul whenever their palpable racism gets called out. Try as they might, they simply can’t have it both ways.
photo courtesy of Kivanc Nis via Flickr