August 04, 2010

Religious freedom for everyone, except Indians

Another essay on the proposed mosque near Ground Zero makes a startling claim:

Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich Need a History Lesson

By Joe ConasonUntil now, nobody in a position of responsibility has sought to deny basic religious liberty to any group whose practices did not somehow trespass the law. Despite disagreements around the borders of religious freedom, the nation shared a consensus in favor of the concept—for everyone, with no exceptions.

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.
"Everyone, with no exceptions"...really? Setting aside Muslims for the moment, I don't think it would be hard to find historical examples of religious bias against Jews, Mormons, Buddhists, Quakers, and others who didn't practice mainstream Christianity. More recent examples include those who believe in Wicca or Santeria.

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:Although the building is to be constructed on private property, both Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin seem to believe that the state should forbid construction of a mosque there.

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.
Comment:  For more on the subject, see Opposing Churches Near Massacre Sites and Angry White Christians Want Country Back.

Below:  The face of religious intolerance in America.


Chief Taxpayer said...

Great subject!

It is true that even today, "freedom of religion" only applies to White Anglo Christians.

And before you comment dmarks or anonymous, think of how states and many tax based communities have legislation passed to display the "Ten Commandments" or still mandate the "Pledge of Allegiance" in classrooms across the US.

With the American Indians, there is one repository in the whole USA that contains and controls the use of eagle feathers. Natives have used eagle feathers since time memoriam, from every corner of the Western Hemisphere and almost every tribe on both American continents, yet, the feds can't even have the decency to allow a board made up of indigenous peoples to have input.

Yet, Christians and Right wing ministries across America hold electoral manipulation from the pulpit in tax free built mega-churches.

Churches should pay taxes, just like Indians do!

dmarks said...


I actually have a lot of agreement with you. Expecially on the disrespect for Native faith, which was outright banned for so long. The least agreement I have is on the Pledge, which contains a reference to "God" that can apply to anything).