Cynthia M. Allen

A distressing pattern of religious bigotry is defining our politics

A small group within the Tarrant County Republican Party has been calling for Dr. Shahid Shafi to be removed from his post as f vice chairman because he is a Muslim.
A small group within the Tarrant County Republican Party has been calling for Dr. Shahid Shafi to be removed from his post as f vice chairman because he is a Muslim. amccoy@star-telegram.com

Just before Christmas, two Democratic senators celebrated the spirit of the season by suggesting that judicial nominee Brian Buescher was unfit for the federal bench because he is a Roman Catholic.

In a series of questions sent to the nominee, Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) interrogated Buescher about his membership in the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal organization that contributes million of hours of volunteer work and raises millions of dollars for charitable purposes each year.

The Knights were founded in 1882, a time when anti-Catholic sentiments ran high, and the very idea of a Roman Catholic holding high public office was almost unthinkable.

Nearly 150 years later, one would hope that kind of overt religious bigotry would be a distant, shameful memory — especially for members of the progressive left, including one who aspires to higher office.

Alas, it is not.

In their questions, Hirono and Harris stated that the Knights have taken “extreme positions” on abortion and same-sex marriage, specifically that the organization is opposed to abortion and supports traditional marriage.

Those are, indeed, the stated positions of the Knights, writ large, but it is false and misleading to call them extreme. According to Gallup, which has been asking people about their thoughts on abortion for decades, roughly half of the U.S. population identifies as pro-life.

And when it comes to same-sex marriage, leading Democratic politicians — including President Barrack Obama — supported traditional marriage until relatively recently, when it became politically advantageous for them to do otherwise.

Not only are the views promoted by the Knights well within the mainstream, more importantly they are aligned with the teachings and traditions of the Roman Catholic Church and represent the views held by millions of faithful the world over.

By asserting that Buescher’s membership in the Knights might compromise his judicial decision-making, Harris and Hirono are essentially arguing that he is unqualified for the federal bench solely because of his religious affiliation. And that is religious discrimination, plain and simple.

While this vein of blatant bigotry is part of a distressing pattern in progressive circles, progressives are not the only ones weaponizing religion.

Right here in Tarrant County, a small but vocal minority of activists has attempted to impose a religious litmus test on one of the local GOP’s vice-chairs.

Shahid Shafi, a doctor, father and Southlake city councilman also happens to be a practicing Muslim — an identifier that a few party extremists claim disqualifies him from holding the position.

The attacks on Shafi’s faith are inexcusable and no less serious than those directed at Buescher. But in the case of Shafi, conservatives of many stripes have rebuked Shafi’s critics and come to his defense.

While local party leaders have been divided, several precinct chairs have threatened to resign their positions should Shafi lose his vice-chairmanship.

Conservative leaders of the Texas GOP, including Land Commissioner George P. Bush and Sen. Ted Cruz, have strongly condemned the effort to oust Shafi. And just this week, Gov. Greg Abbott spoke out in the defense of Shafi and religious freedom.

Meanwhile, Hirono and Harris have endured few critiques of their behavior; thus far, only Hawaii Democrat Rep. Tulsi Gabbard has publicly admonished her fellow lawmakers for “fomenting bigotry, fears and suspicions based on the faith, religion or spiritual practices” of others.

By the time this column is in print, the Tarrant County GOP will have voted to either remove or retain Shafi. One can only hope the county party has turned out to be more enlightened than the senators from Hawaii and California and the party that protects them.

Cynthia Allen joined the Star-Telegram Editorial Board in 2014 after a decade of working in government and public affairs in Washington, D.C. She is a member of the Editorial Board and writes a weekly opinion column on a wide array of topics, including politics, faith and motherhood.
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