Newt Gingrich effectively called for the deportation of all practicing Muslims from the United States Thursday night. His suggestion, which would almost certainly be unconstitutional, represents perhaps the most sweeping call for a religious test proposed by a mainstream political figure over the last few years, which have seen a strong backlash against Islam.
“Let me be as blunt and direct as I can be. Western civilization is in a war. We should frankly test every person here who is of a Muslim background, and if they believe in sharia, they should be deported,” Gingrich said on Fox News. “Sharia is incompatible with Western civilization. Modern Muslims who have given up Sharia—glad to have them as citizens. Perfectly happy to have them next door.”
Gingrich continued by saying that anyone who visited a website associated with ISIS or Al-Qaeda should be prosecuted as a felon.
Gingrich has a tendency to speak off the cuff, often saying outrageous things, so it’s hard to tell how considered the comment was. But it represents a grave misunderstanding of both the First Amendment and “sharia,” an oft-blurred term.
On the first count, it’s hard to imagine Gingrich’s suggestion passing anything resembling constitutional muster. Presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump has advocated for a ban on Muslims entering the United States, and legal opinions diverge on that; some scholars believe that such a prohibition might be upheld in courts, based on immigration laws. What Gingrich is suggesting is radically different. He would not only change who the United States allows in; he would apparently seek to deport those already resident, including perhaps American citizens, “of a Muslim background,” and he would do so on the basis of a religious test, despite the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom to practice religion. (Would Anglo-Saxon or African American converts to Islam be spared?)