Tea Party Nation, one of the many overlapping political groups that grew out of the Republican right last year, has sent out an email stating reasons to vote against Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota. Among them:
He is the only Muslim member of congress.That’s factually wrong, as Rachel Maddow’s commenters pointed out; two Congressmen are Muslim.
It’s also directly contrary to the language of the U.S. Constitution, which states in Article VI:
…no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.The Constitution doesn’t bar individual voters from exercising their private bigotries, of course. But Tea Party Nation’s message undermines that movement’s claim to comprehend and follow the Constitution better than anyone else.
Indeed, this stipulation in Article VI is significant because it’s part of the original document, predating even the Bill of Rights. In an essay at History News Network, Prof. Jon Butler of Yale, among the most respected historians of religion in early America, argues that the legislative history of the First Amendment shows Congress choosing to expand the religious freedom it implied:
In June 1789 Congress declined a proposal from James Madison for a constitutional amendment about religion that said, “nor shall any national religion be established.” In September 1789, Congress rejected several additional proposals for a narrow religion amendment. These would have prohibited establishing “one religious sect or society in preference to others,” or “establishing any religious sect or society,” or “establishing any particular denomination of religion in preference to another.”That book is available online here. It’s mostly about Christian divisions and subdivisions, but Adams (shown above) discusses “the Mohammedans” in her Appendix, starting here and proceeding for thirteen pages.
In the final version of the First Amendment, congressmen and senators used the broader word “religion,” and when discussing the issue of “free exercise” of religion they never limited its meaning to Christianity or Judaism.
No wonder. The new states in the 1790s already exhibited exceptional religious diversity—at least twenty-five different versions of Christianity, plus Judaism and Islam—and Americans seemed more fascinated than worried about religious diversity. In 1784 Hannah Adams of Medfield, Massachusetts, found a huge audience for her book “Alphabetical Compendium of the Various Sects which have Appeared in the World from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Present Day.”