Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich Need a History Lesson
By Joe Conason
It is a consensus that dates back to the first days following the Revolution, when George Washington wrote to the Jewish congregation in Newport, R.I., guaranteeing the new republic’s commitment to universal tolerance.
Of course, the most obvious case is the American Indian. I'd say Indians had almost no religious freedom for most of their history under US rule. Christian Americans routinely shut down Native religions that were every bit as valid as theirs. They persecuted and sometimes prosecuted Indians who were sincerely following the Creator's wishes. (An example of prosecution would be jailing a Native American Church member for using peyote.)
It wasn't until the mid-20th century that Indians could practice their beliefs without fear of massive reprisal. And a bias that's only slightly less blatant continues. Sacred Native sites don't get the same protections as churches and synagogues. Prisons don't let Native inmates have medicine bags or hold sweats. We've seen how a school district tried to prevent a Native boy from wearing his hair long. Etc.
Hence the title of this posting: religious freedom for everyone, except Indians.
Except for Conason's foolishness about the lack of religious persecution, his column is good. Here's what he has to say about Gingrich's and Palin's prejudice:
According to Palin, this project represents a threatened “stab” in the “heart” for every American—and that’s all she said. The former Alaska governor’s remarks frequently lack any semblance of reason or logic. This time, her fumbling diction, instructing “peace-loving” Muslims to “refudiate” the mosque, provided such amusement that the ominous subtext of the message was almost ignored—but it couldn’t have been clearer.
Beneath her references to healing and understanding, Palin let every Muslim in America know that their religion, its edifices and symbols, offends their fellow Americans. She was saying that Islam doesn’t share equal status with other faiths. She was warning the Muslim community against any assertion of those rights.
Characteristically, Gingrich went further, using aggressive language and false insinuation. Without any shred of evidence, he denounced the moderate Muslims developing the community center as “hostile to our civilization.” Instead of building where they live, in New York City, he urged them to try to build a church or a synagogue “in Saudi Arabia.”
By uttering those words, the old bully proved what liberals and moderates have often noticed about the religious right—namely, the troubling resemblance between our homegrown ultras and the foreign extremists who have attacked us. Only when the Saudis permit full religious freedom to Christians and Jews, Gingrich suggested, should we do likewise to Muslims. So he recommends that we trash the Bill of Rights and mimic the practices of foreign despots.
Below: The face of religious intolerance in America.