Herman Cain Doesn't Believe in the First Amendment

The candidate said American citizens who belong to a certain religious minority group can be denied the right to build places of worship

In June, when Herman Cain said that Muslims seeking to serve in his administration would be subject to a special loyalty test, a lot of people accused him of bigotry. I was among them. In subsequent interviews, Cain scoffed at his critics, but he also quietly changed his position: there wouldn't be any special test for Muslim Americans, he said, he'd just vet everyone very carefully.

As it turns out, those of us who suspected that he isn't to be trusted with the liberty of religious minorities were right. In the clip above, he asserts that every community in the United States should have the right to ban mosque construction. "They're objecting to the fact that Islam is both a religion and a set of laws: sharia law," Cain said. "That's the difference between any one of our other traditional religions... The people in the community know best, and I happen to side with the people in the community."

Said host Chris Wallace: "So you're saying any community if they want to ban a mosque?"

Cain: "Yes. They have the right to do that..." It's sharia law that they're really objecting to, he said.   

If his backers, many of whom call themselves "constitutional conservatives," have any regard for the actual liberties guaranteed by our founding document, they'll immediately abandon this candidate. His outright attack on the First Amendment's protection of religious expression ought to cost him the support of every tea partier, religious conservative, and libertarian voter who has the courage of their professed convictions.

Voters whose only criteria is common sense should abandon him too.

It is irresponsible for a public figure to assert that a religious minority ought to enjoy fewer rights than the rest of the population, absurd to argue that Islam is unique in being associated with a religious legal code, and idiotic to imagine that forcing a religious group to hold its services underground, due to persecution by the state, is a useful way to rein in radicalism. A man who doesn't understand that has no place seeking the presidency. It would be nice if he came to realize the errors in his thinking, and apologized for them, but regardless, he ought to drop out of the race.

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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