Nine and a Half Amendments in Some Copies of the Bill of Rights?

I enjoy reading the political campaign commentary of Jim Geraghty of National Review, as well as his daily Morning Jolt email newsletter (available for free email subscription). Today, the first part of the Morning Jolt concerned right blogospheric reaction to Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain’s comments about Muslims and religious freedom on Fox News Sunday yesterday. I heard the interview live as Chris Wallace pressed him hard on this point and I have admit I taken aback at Cain’s understanding of the First Amendment. (Although he can be annoying, I find Wallace to be a very tough interviewer.) First, you should watch the exchange in its entirety so you can see that his remarks are not being taken out of context. Wallace gave him every opportunity to explain himself fully.

I don’t think Jim will mind if I reproduced his entry here, as an inducement for those who may wish to subscribe.

Nine and a Half Amendments in Some Copies of the Bill of Rights?

Herman Cain says voters across the country should have the right to prevent Muslims from building mosques in their communities.

In an exchange on “Fox News Sunday,” the Republican presidential contender said that he sided with some in a town near Nashville who were trying to prevent Muslims from worshiping in their community.

“Our Constitution guarantees the separation of church and state,” he said. “Islam combines church and state. They’re using the church part of our First Amendment to infuse their morals in that community, and the people of that community do not like it. They disagree with it.”

Asked by host Chris Wallace if any community could ban a mosque if it wanted to, Cain said: “They have a right to do that.” Cain, an African-American who grew up during the civil rights era, claimed he was not discriminating against Muslims. He said it was “totally different” than the fight for racial equality because there were laws prohibiting blacks from advancing.

At Weasel Zippers, the first reaction is, “The inevitable CAIR meltdown in 3 . . . 2 . . . 1.”

But it’s not only CAIR who cares. At Ace of Spades, contributor Drew M. is no longer a fan of Cain in any way, shape, or form:

This guy is not longer a joke, he’s simply despicable. Chris Wallace asked Herman Cain about a mosque being built in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. After arguing that Islam doesn’t qualify as a religion or something under the 1st Amendment, they got to the heart of the matter . . . . Cain has a rather convoluted understanding of the US Constitution, at least when it comes to it’s applicability to Muslims in this country .

I didn’t like John McCain’s attempts to rewrite the 1st Amendment through campaign finance reform laws and I don’t like candidates for President like Cain who think some people may only build houses of worship at the sufferance of their fellow citizens.

Yes, mosques must follow the same laws and regulations as any other religion nor should they be granted any special consideration because in some areas Islam is ‘the de facto state religion‘. But the wholesale banning of them because people don’t like Muslims or what they believe in? I’ll stand with the Constitution.

Guys like Cain profess to revere the US Constitution yet they are strangely willing to ignore it when it either suits their personal beliefs or political needs. Personally, I’d prefer to live the selective and creative interpretations of the plain meaning of those indecipherable old words to liberals.

At Outside the Beltway, Cain’s comments prompt Doug Mataconis to dismiss him from serious consideration:

We have freedom of religion, Cain is saying, but people should have the right to ban your religious practices if they don’t like you. The Herman Cain boomlet is dying, because its becoming clear that everything that comes out of his mouth is utter nonsense.

The answer is messy, as is the issue. Cain’s point that Islam, in general, has never made its peace with the concept of the separation of church and state. (Turkey would be a notable exception, but there Ataturk had a long Turkish cultural identity — perhaps even cultural chauvinism — separate from Islam to root his concept of a democratic republic.)

In the comments over at Ace of Spades, a commenter disagrees with Drew and posits, “Islam is not a religion in the sense of religions protected by the Constitution, but is a geopolitical movement.” If that is true — and there will be quite a few Muslims baffled to hear that their beliefs are not a religion — treating Islam as a non-religion will require the government to take a much more restrictive view of what constitutes a “religion” and enjoys the constitutional rights associated with that. To take one example, the Department of Veterans Affairs will permit headstones to feature, besides the better-known religious symbols, the Buddhist Wheel of Righteousness, the Mormon Angel, a teepee representing the Native American Church of North America, the nine-pointed star of the Bahai, the atom of the Atheist (no, really), the symbols for Eckankar, Humanist, Izumo-taishakyo, Soka-Gakkai, and finally, the pentacle of Wicca. (Star Trek fans could choose the symbol of the Kohen hands, which is where Leonard Nemoy got the idea for the Vulcan greeting.)

Our common definition of religious freedom in this country can let all of those diverse ideas, beliefs, and faiths flourish, but not Islam? And do we really want to make the mood and values of the locals the litmus test as to whether a religion can be practiced there? How would that rule apply to deeply conservative or traditional houses of worship in places such as Manhattan or San Francisco or Cambridge or Berkeley? “I’m sorry, you can’t practice that faith here; your prayer for the unborn offends your pro-choice neighbors.”

Some may recall, that during his first interview with Chris Wallace, Cain had no idea what the Palestinian “right of return” was.

If you enjoy election campaign coverage, and a pithy survey of blog reactions in your morning Inbox, you can subscribe to Morning Jolt here.

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