Freedom of Religion Requires Freedom From Fear

As anti-Muslim demonstrations loom, Americans have a responsibility to stand up for religious minorities.

The Islamic Community Center of Phoenix (Ross D. Franklin / AP)

Imagine if Americans woke up one morning to news of a coordinated nationwide effort by a network of armed “patriots,” toting semiautomatic guns with live ammunition, who were organizing roughly 20 protests outside Jewish synagogues, Sikh temples or black churches across the United States to intimidate congregants?

They would rightfully be horrified.

Now imagine if these armed patriots were actually planning on protesting outside 20 Islamic mosques across the U.S. Would they produce the same degree of outrage?

Evidently not.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations warns that activists are planning anti-Muslim rallies at as many as 22 mosques, community centers, and government offices across the United States on Friday and Saturday. A Facebook page for the euphemistically named “Global Rally for Humanity” encourages “fellow patriots” to unite in protest.

These would-be “patriots” are nothing more than gun-wielding bullies trying to intimidate religious minorities from freely exercising their First Amendment rights by pointing their loaded semi-automatic Second Amendment rights directly into synagogues, temples, and mosques around the country.

The organizer of one protest planned for this weekend is a former U.S. Marine and “Oath Keeper” named Jon Ritzheimer, who gained a degree of notoriety earlier this year for coordinating an anti-mosque protest in Phoenix that drew hundreds of armed protesters. At that previous rally, he proudly sold “FUCK ISLAM” shirts. Ritzheimer, who is organizing the Phoenix Global Rally for Humanity, also recently (and bizarrely) threatened to arrest a senator for treason, for her support of the nuclear deal with Iran.

These blatant displays of Islamophobia and anti-Muslim animus are not emerging in a vacuum. One recent poll found that just 49 percent of Iowa Republicans think the religion of Islam should be legal in the United States—while 30 percent believe it “should be outlawed altogether.”

Such sentiments continue to be fanned by many conservative political leaders. Most recently, Ben Carson, a Republican presidential candidate, provoked a national uproar when he publicly stated on several occasions that he would not support a Muslim as president.

His sentiments are echoed by a Time survey which found that over 28 percent of American voters believe Muslims should not “even be eligible to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court” and that nearly one-third of the country thinks that followers of Islam should be “barred from even running for President”—a slightly higher percentage than the 24 percent who believe that Barack Obama is himself a Muslim.

Attacks (and armed protests) on any house of worship in America—whether it be a synagogue, mosque, temple, or black church—should be considered acts of terrorism, because they seek to intimidate minority populations and chill their First Amendment rights to the free exercise of their religion by terrorizing people in places of sanctuary.

Muslims are not the only religious minority to have their houses of worship and community centers targeted by armed zealots in recent years. In April, 2014, a white neo-Nazi attacked a Jewish community center in Kansas City. He made “no secret of his racist views, writing letters to newspapers and inviting people to white-supremacist meetings at his home,” as CNN reported.

A few years earlier, in August, 2012, six innocent people were murdered at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin by a 40-year-old white supremacist named Wade Michael Page. In June of this year, a 21-year-old white supremacist named Dylann Roof entered the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina in June 2015 and proceeded to sit quietly in their Bible study for about an hour before methodically opening fire and executing nine innocent African American worshippers.

Again, regardless of whether we are dealing with attacks on black churches, mosques, synagogues or temples, Americans of conscience should send a resounding collective message that an attack on any house of worship is an attack on all houses of worship.

This tragic string of attacks on the houses of worship of religious minorities across America means the minority communities are still not valued as much around society as the white, Christian population. That is why it is essential that people of conscience everywhere should stand firmly against armed attacks or protests at any house of worship, including those this weekend at mosques around America.