Fighting the right's religious test for military service
Q: What is the proper role of religion -- and personal religious belief -- in the U.S. armed forces? Should a particular religious affiliation disqualify someone from active military service? How far should the military go to accommodate personal religious beliefs and practices?
Demonization of American Muslims is under way among conservative American Christians who think wrongly that President Obama is showing his true colors as a Muslim and Muslims shouldn't be in the military. But this is not the first time that anxiety within right-wing Christianity has objected to government service based on faith. Stopping the phobia from spreading from the fringes of faith into the mainstream demands that faith leaders speak up now.
Writing last week after the Fort Hood murders, Bryan Fischer, director of issue analysis for the American Family Association, charged that Muslims should be blocked from serving in the U.S. military.
"It is time...to stop the practice of allowing Muslims to serve in the U.S. military," said Fischer, who works for one of the older Christian Right organizations. "The reason is simple: the more devout a Muslim is, the more of a threat he is to national security. Devout Muslims, who accept the teachings of the Prophet as divinely inspired, believe it is their duty to kill infidels."
Fischer asserted that "the more devout a Muslim is, the more likely he is to lie to you through his teeth, since lying to the infidel to advance the cause of Islam is commended, not just permitted, in the Koran."
Fort Hood was "living proof" about Muslims, said Fischer, who claimed his view was not phobic but realistic.
When moderate American Muslims give "us a foolproof way" to distinguish between jihadists and moderates, then "we'll go back to allowing them to serve," said Fischer.
Fischer's worldview echoes what conservative Protestants said about presidential candidate John Kennedy. They claimed that as a devout Catholic, he would take orders from the Pope, who would then control the presidency and make America a Catholic nation.
Members of the Christian Right questioned the devotion of Jimmy Carter to authentic Christianity, and hence, his legitimacy to serve. More recently, Mitt Romney tried to dispel fears about his Mormon faith in order to be a viable candidate for the Republican Party's presidential nomination.
Behind all these litmus tests of faith for government service is the conviction that America is a Christian nation, and not any kind of Christianity. America is really a conservative Protestant Christian nation.
Fischer asked in his blog only a few months ago, "Can a devout Muslim be a good American?"
"No," he answered. "This is simply because the values of Islam are fundamentally incompatible with the values of an America which has been formed and shaped by Judeo-Christian values."
Objecting to faith as a qualifier for military service or elected office on constitutional grounds holds little sway for those at the fringes. Making moral arguments about the wrongness of misguided prejudice gets little traction. Pointing out the loyalty to country by those of different faith traditions matters little to some conservative Christians.
The fear and smear are fanned by Fox News, fueled on talk radio, fed by blogs and stoked in pulpits. Our situation is dangerously viral.
About the only viable counterforce is for the majority of Christian ministers to stand up for goodwill American Muslims and to speak continuously for the separation of church and state. American Christian leaders need to get off the fence and face those on the fringes of faith.
November 10, 2009; 11:44 AM ET
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