Religious faith is guaranteed; all religious practice is not

By treating anti-blasphemy initiatives and anti-western rejectionism as protected religious expression, Islamist enablers make a mockery of American values and freedoms.

Matthew M. Hausman, J.D.

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Secular progressives lack moral clarity when they preach détente with radical Islam while disparaging traditional Judaism and western religion.  They mock assertive Jews as chauvinistic or conservative Christians as puritanical, but defend doctrinal supremacists who despise liberal democratic values.

 Though the left often cites constitutional principles to justify coddling Islamists, the Constitution does not mandate tolerance of religious extremism. Nor does it guarantee totally unfettered freedom of religion.  Freedom of belief is certainly absolute, but the exercise of religion is not when it compromises the rights of others. Moreover, government has a legitimate interest in monitoring extremist ideologies that threaten public health, safety, and welfare.

America’s founding fathers envisioned a republic where individual liberties and communal obligations would be balanced in equipoise.  Generations of immigrants were able to embrace the American ideal without abdicating their religious or cultural heritage because the Constitution requires no repudiation of background, imposes no national creed, and respects freedom of belief.  It asks in return only that citizens pledge to uphold its principles. Immigrant Jews were able to thrive in this milieu because Jewish law provides “dina d’malchuta dina,” or “the law of the land is the law.”  Accordingly, Jews always felt compelled to respect native laws, assuming that none prohibited observance of the commandments.  

But supremacist ideologies that undermine the rights of others conflict with the law of the land, and thus are subject to monitoring and – if necessary – restriction.

The tendency to accuse critics of radical Islam of bigotry reflects ignorance or cognitive dissonance, particularly when their criticisms challenge western deference to extremist sensibilities or the intrusion of Sharia on majority culture.  By treating anti-blasphemy initiatives and anti-western rejectionism as protected religious expression, Islamist enablers make a mockery of American values and freedoms. Though Islamist intolerance and insularity are often rationalized in the name of multiculturalism, government cannot ignore faith-based conduct that threatens the rights of others.  There can be no excuse for honor killing, subjugating women, or imposing foreign parochialism in a society that espouses separation of church and state.

The First Amendment of the Constitution states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion . . . or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”  By prohibiting the establishment of national religion or endorsement of particular faiths, this language provides the basis for freedom of belief and worship. As integral as this amendment is, however, it does not prohibit government from safeguarding the welfare of its citizens; and the exercise of religion is not absolutely guaranteed when it threatens public safety or the rights of others.  

Calling for the subjugation of “infidels” or death penalty for heretics, for example, is incompatible with the Constitution and thus not subject to protection.

No discussion regarding free exercise today can omit reference to the threat of religious militancy.  Regarding militant Islam, Rabbi Dr. Richard L. Rubenstein, in his book “Jihad and Genocide,” discussed the jihadist impulse in the following context:

“Since Muslims believe that enduring peace and civic harmony can only be achieved by unconditional obedience to Allah, the project of spreading knowledge of Islam and calling upon non-Muslims to submit to conversion (da’wa) is seen as an invitation to join in the creation of a universal order of peace, justice, and harmony under Allah. When, however, nonbelievers decline that call, they are not regarded as being faithful to their own traditions but rejecting the sovereignty of Allah…”

“Hence, at least theoretically, Muslims are obliged to wage war until the unbelievers either become Muslim or acknowledge Islam’s supremacy…”


As Dr. Rubenstein and others have noted, Islamic militants are not an insignificant minority inhabiting the lunatic fringes of Mideast society.  Rather, they represent a powerful element dedicated to global Islamic hegemony. History suggests it is not hyperbole to characterize jihad against the west as a “clash of civilizations” or Islamist supremacism as inconsistent with pluralistic society.

In expanding the boundaries of their dominion since the seventh century, jihadists destroyed the sacred places of non-Islamic peoples they encountered, often using as building materials the rubble from temples, churches, synagogues and cemeteries they destroyed.  Characteristic of their disdain for native cultures and beliefs, they built mosques over the ruins of Hindu temples in India, converted churches after overrunning huge swaths of Christian Europe (centuries before the Crusades), and built shrines over ancient Jewish holy sites, including the Cave of Machpelah, Rachel’s Tomb, and the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

Despite latter-day claims to the contrary, Jerusalem has no scriptural significance in Islam.  The Quran, in fact, is devoid of any reference, whereas Hebrew Scripture mentions Jerusalem and Zion more than eight-hundred times.  The Dome of the Rock, however, was built on the Temple Mount to symbolize the Jews’ subjugation in their homeland. This impulse to dominate is similar to that which compelled Umayyad Caliph al-Walid to convert the Church of St. John in Damascus to a Mosque in 706 and the Taliban to destroy ancient Buddhist shrines in Afghanistan in 2001.  

Indeed, it was this tradition that raised concerns a decade ago regarding a proposal to build a mosque at New York’s “Ground Zero.”  Critics then believed that constructing such a facility near the site where thousands were murdered by jihadists on 9/11 would essentially preempt a place held sacred by all Americans, regardless of race, ethnicity, or religion.  Despite these reservations, the proposal’s detractors were labeled bigots by progressives, whose accommodation of radical Islam became more pronounced in the years thereafter.

Liberals who excuse Islamist effrontery in the name of religious freedom are incongruously unabashed in their contempt for any perceived encroachment of western religion in secular society.  They chastise fundamentalist Christians for opposing abortion and same-sex marriage, but express grave concerns that any discussion of Islamic radicalism will offend Muslim sensibilities. Christians can certainly be criticized when engaging in public debates – such is the nature of American politics.  So why should Muslims be regarded differently? If religious expression can be scrutinized when it implicates public interest, there can be no justification for excluding Islamist excess from government purview.

Bureaucratic intervention in religious affairs is often mundane.  A church seeking to expand, for example, must apply for zoning approval and go through the same process as any other petitioner.  It must file applications that are vetted publicly and which can be denied for a variety of reasons, including concerns for traffic safety, architectural integrity, or continuity of neighborhood character.  

Government regulatory authority is not limited to land use enforcement, however, and can be exercised whenever public safety and security are threatened.  Christian sects that practice snake-bite rituals, for example, are subject to state laws (upheld by the US Supreme Court) banning the sale and use of poisonous serpents for devotional purposes.  Christian Scientists who withhold insulin from diabetic children and Witnesses who deny blood transfusions to minors can be prosecuted for child neglect, abuse, or homicide. Likewise, religious polygamists who take child brides can be arrested for statutory rape, and cults threatening armed violence, like the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas, can be restrained using deadly force.  

Even something as innocuous as a Lag B’Omer bonfire is subject to municipal fire codes and permit regulations.

Although the First Amendment mandates freedom of worship, it does not grant the right to harass others in the name of religion.  This is not to say that government can restrict religious thought. It cannot and should not. However, there must be a balance between the right to free exercise and the need to protect the rights of persons affected by the practices of others.

Accordingly, non-Muslims should not be subjected to Sharia or anti-blasphemy limitations any more than Jews should have to tolerate harassment by evangelicals who proselytize by corrupting Jewish Scripture.  The right to free exercise must be counterbalanced by the right to be left alone.

America’s founders conceived of a broadly inclusive society, but they never contemplated empowering religious extremists who would seek to impose their beliefs on others and respect no authority but their own.  Militant Islam is incompatible with liberal democracy, as are the efforts of its political vanguard to impose Sharia on non-Muslims. While the European Human Rights Court has affirmed laws prohibiting speech deemed “insulting to the Prophet of Islam” or offensive to Muslim sensibilities, such judicial overreach contravenes the American legal tradition.  The US Constitution grants freedom of speech and worship, but it entitles nobody to protection from insult or offense.

Indeed, US citizens are constitutionally protected from extremist enablers who seek to regulate speech or impose totalitarian restrictions through questionable legislation or enforced political correctness.  Freedom of belief may be absolute, but freedom of practice is not when it inhibits speech, imposes minority beliefs on the majority, and undermines the law of the land.