As the United States prepares to elect its 45th president, issues surrounding the place of religion in American public life are at the heart of some of the most contentious debates in American culture. There are competing visions of what “religious freedom” means and whether there is any place for religion outside of individual private worship. The implications are numerous, from issues of marriage and abortion, to higher education and business.
Based on the candidates' background, policy statements, and your own analysis, how will they handle issues of domestic religious freedom as the next president of the United States?
To see all posts in this series visit: Election 2016: Domestic Religious Freedom
Donald Trump’s candidacy for president has been a wild ride of unprecedented activities, with positions never before taken by a presidential candidate. Barely a day goes by that Trump doesn’t make headlines with another shocking statement. Not the least of these are his view related to religious minorities and their rights.
Trump’s contemporary views on religious freedom issues generally follow the Republican party platform when it comes to the traditional Christian social and religious issues.
When it comes to religious freedom for religious minorities Trump’s policies are a sharp departure from anything that we have seen in decades. Muslims are his favorite target to fuel outrage in his base. Last year he suggested targeting Muslims for Special ID’s, warrantless searches, keeping a special database to monitor activities, and even suggesting shutting down mosques. By the end of the year he called for a ban on all Muslim immigration and toyed with the idea of camps.
In the second presidential town hall debate a Muslim American asked the candidates what they would do to protect Muslim Americans from violence and discrimination. Trump proceeded to answer the question by saying that Muslims had to do more to notify law enforcement of terrorist activity. He then repeated an already debunked story about how the Muslim community in San Bernardino knew about the activities of the couple who committed the terror attack. His incoherent message appeared to be for Muslims to police their own community (a standard placed on no other American demographic) or face the consequences (An acceptance of Islamophobic activity?). Meanwhile, he’s continued to ignore the rise in white nationalist inspired violence.
Trump’s response to other religious minorities has been no more comforting and seems to be ignorant and unsympathetic to the struggles many of them face. Sikh Americans have faced a dramatic increase in violence against their community along with Muslims, primarily because the attackers are unable to distinguish between Sikhs and Muslims. In March, Trump responded to a question on how to educate the public to not alienate Sikhs, Hindus, Muslims, and Jews and how to protect the constitutional rights of these religious minorities, by defending his call for limiting Muslim immigration—completely ignoring that the question was primarily focused on Sikhs. A recent Trump campaign brochure featuring pictures of supporters including one of an undecided Sikh man, but was labeled as a Muslim.
Trump’s ongoing campaign around a xenophobia of Muslims and Latino immigrants has drawn the support of many white nationalists. These nationalists (i.e. racists) have not come out in support of a candidate this strongly in decades. Even David Duke, a former leader of the KKK, has endorsed him along with other notable leaders of white nationalist organizations. Yet when questioned about it, Trump was very hesitant to disavow Duke and his support. He has instead retweeted white supremacists and given them access to his rallies. Meanwhile, now emboldened, white hate groups have seen their membership numbers balloon and hate crimes have sharply increased. The anti-semitic rhetoric of many of Trump’s supporters and his lack of condemnation (in some cases, endorsement of their ideas) has raised concern among Jewish Americans.
While promoting violent speech, Trump has restricted press access. While claiming he is the “law and order” candidate, he has disregarded the First Amendment. While claiming he would be very good for Jews, he has attracted a following that continues to threaten Jewish journalists.
Political and faith community leaders, even internationally, have taken notice and offered their wisdom on how to remedy the growing social unrest. Last week at Canadian Parliament His Holiness the Khalifa of Islam Mirza Masroor Ahmad admonished governments to eschew religious tests and oppression and instead advised, “It is not wise for governments or parliaments to place restrictions on the basic religious practices or beliefs of people. For example, governments should not concern themselves with what type of clothing a woman chooses to wear. They should not issue decrees stating what a place of worship should look like. If they overreach in this way, it will be a means of restlessness and heightening frustrations amongst their people. Such grievances will continue to exacerbate if they are not checked and ultimately will threaten the peace of society.”
It has become apparent that Trump responds emotionally to current events and does not always think his proposals through and whether or not they violate the principles of the constitution. They are often inspired by fear and anger which is a dangerous and irresponsible use of a leadership position. When a president shows willingness to violate the civil liberties of its citizens it sets a dangerous example which leads to violence and unrest against religious minorities. This has already been demonstrated in the short period of Trump’s candidacy, where violence against Muslims and other minorities has increased significantly. A Trump presidency would likely be noted for putting preference of religious rights to Christians while ignoring or even usurping the rights of religious minorities.
Rasheed Reno is the Vice President of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community Seattle Chapter. Follow him on Twitter at @RasheedReno
Qasim Rashid is the national spokesperson for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA. Follow him on Twitter @MuslimIQ
**All views and opinions presented in this essay are solely those of the author and publication on Cornerstone does not represent an endorsement or agreement from the Religious Freedom Institute or its leadership.**