A Footnote on Carson and Islam

Ben Carson is taking fire for his comment that he “would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation” because Islam is not consistent with the Constitution. This was enough for our normally sensible friends at PJ Media to post a hasty and injudicious Rick Moran column calling Carson a bigot.

But as Paul has correctly noted, any faith that does not recognize the principle of the separation of church and state (rightly understood) is not compatible with liberal democracy and constitutional government. This is also true of some remaining Christian sects; look up “Christian Reconstructionism” some day in an idle hour. It is roughly the same issue that faced John F. Kennedy in 1960, when the ludicrous question was raised whether he’d take orders from the Vatican. But is it so ludicrous to ask what would guide the policy of a Pres. Louis Farrakhan, or a Pres. Keith Ellison?

Although Carson ran astray of the vital point that the Constitution specifies that there shall be no religious test for public office, the fact that just about every Islamic constitution you can look up specifies not only a religious test for public office, but that Sharia codes shall be the basis for the positive law of the regime shows the problem. The right question for Chuck Todd or anyone to be asking is not whether Islam could be compatible with American democratic principles, but whether liberal genuine democracy can ever take hold in Islamic countries. The short version of this question might be: Turkey—versus just about everyone else in the neighborhood. (And Turkey isn’t looking so good these days, despite its constitutional prohibition on fundamentalist religious parties.) Look what Egypt had to do to prevent a theocratic takeover: a military coup. Until Islamic countries understand and accept the reciprocal nature of civil and religious liberty—and therefore practice religious toleration—there will be endless civil war and no prospects for democratic stability.

The best short way of grasping the essence of the reciprocal nature of civil and religious liberty is to take in one sentence from George Washington’s great 1790 letter to the Hebrew Congregation at Newport:

It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.

Religious liberty is a natural right—along with all your other civil rights, and for the same reason—but enjoying your religious liberty requires that you allow others to do the same. I’m sure most American Muslims understand and agree with this, but it is certainly a fair question to ask of a faith that overseas is on an armed march to impose theocracy.