Recently, elements of the Tarrant County GOP have campaigned to remove Shahid Shafi from his leadership position in the local Republican Party, simply because of his religion.
This is outrageous, and should be opposed strenuously by every Republican who claims to revere the principles upon which America was founded.
America is a creedal nation: this land that we love is made up of not just mountains and plains and baseball and blues music. Conservatives in the United States differ from those in other parts of the world, because we do not stand to defend tradition for tradition’s sake, and we do not seek to preserve a certain bloodline or soil from pollution by outsiders or modernity.
No, ours is a country founded upon certain ideas about the nature of man and the role of government. We seek to conserve the republican form of government and the mores of a free society that have made America a beacon to the rest of the world.
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Americans look first and foremost to the Declaration of Independence to define these ideas: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Beyond this, we also look to speeches like the Gettysburg Address or Lincoln’s Second Inaugural to give shape and meaning to our national creed.
I also look to one of the most beautiful and moving documents in American history: Washington’s letter to the Jewish Congregation at Newport.
In this letter, the father of our country writes that “the citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of a large and liberal policy … all possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship.” Washington goes on to say that “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.”
It is easy 230 years later to fail to appreciate the radicalism of Washington’s sentiments. Throughout history, the Jewish people had been harassed, persecuted and prohibited from taking full part in the societies in which they lived. America, however, would be different. America, the founders understood, would be a land of religious liberty even to minority religious groups unpopular with society at large.
Often we think of the American experiment only in terms of the democratic aspect represented in the popular vote, but what makes this land so special is so much more than that, and chief among the reasons is that we hold as sacred the principle of religious liberty.
You do not have to subscribe to a certain religious dogma to be a full American. You do not have to pass a religious test in order to hold public office in America. America does not have a state church. America does not fight religious wars. America does not judge people based on their religious convictions, but only requires that they who live here “should demean themselves as good citizens” in Washington’s words.
If you only believe that this applies to those faith traditions you like, then you might as well say that you support freedom of speech as long as the speaker agrees with what you were going to say anyways.
But what about Sharia Law? Elements of the Fort Worth GOP ask, “can you be a good Muslim and not support Sharia Law?” To them I say: calm down; the same things were said about Catholics 100 years ago, and Catholics dominate the modern Republican Party without anyone thinking twice about it.
Religion is incredibly complex, and the faith tradition you are suddenly an expert about has 1 billion adherents around the world and is no different. Surely there are Muslims who see their faith as absolutely incompatible with republican government, but Shafi — by all accounts a patriotic, loyal, proud American — should not even be spoken of in the same breath as them.
Islam has many, many shades — from the Sunni, incredibly fundamentalist 8th-century version, to the much more liberal, esoteric and spiritual version practiced in large parts of Asia.
If a member of ISIS is appointed to the GOP leadership, the discussion of Sharia will be appropriate. In the case of Shafi, it is at best ignorant, and at worst an example of the worst kind of bigotry that George Washington would be ashamed of.