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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain caused quite a stir a little over a week ago when he asserted on Fox News Sunday that "local communities" had the right to veto mosques being built in their towns.
Cain subsequently apologized for causing "offense to American Muslims," but the issue is still worth examining.
Frankly, his initial comments should have caused a bigger controversy that they did. It should always be a "big deal" when someone running for the highest elected office in the country is confused about the U.S. Constitution and especially the Bill of Rights. The rights enumerated in the Constitution are there first and foremost to protect minorities from having their rights disregarded by the majority and it does not matter whether that majority is local, state, or national. Our constitutionally protected and recognized rights are too sacred and valuable to be left to the demographic anomalies of particular cities or states. After all, all Americans are a minority somewhere and they should not have their constitutionally guaranteed rights imperiled wherever they are in this great country.
All Americans would do well to remember that whatever rights we allow the government to curtail for one group today, they can curtail them for another group tomorrow. When I was a young boy it seemed that the Jehovah's Witnesses or the Mormons knocked on the door of our home during our evening meal at least once a week. When I asked my mother why we couldn't have laws that kept such people from harassing us during dinner she replied, "Richard, whatever we allow the government to do to the Jehovah's Witnesses or the Mormons today they can do to the rights of the Baptists tomorrow." If we want to maintain the freedom to knock on doors and share our faith with others, we must protect everyone else's right to do so as well."
The glorious First Amendment to our Constitution says "Congress shall make no law respecting an Establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." Ever since the Civil War and the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868 it has been the firm and uniform opinion of the Supreme Court and the entire federal judiciary that all the things the federal government is forbidden from doing in the Bill of Rights, all local and state entities are proscribed from doing as well.
It is surprising that a man of Mr. Cain's ethnicity and age would be so insensitive to this issue. Thank God we put a stop to the "local option" that Southern states put on African-Americans' civil rights during the Jim Crow era. As a result of the bravery of the thousands who marched with Dr. King, Selma and Birmingham no longer have a "local option" on allowing full citizenship to their African-American residents.
Muslims have a constitutionally protected and guaranteed right to have places of worship where they live under the free exercise clause of the First Amendment. And when Mr. Cain says that an exception should be made because Islam is not just a religion but "a way of life," other religions such as Christianity should be insulted. Does Mr. Cain not know that most Christians would argue that their faith is "a way of life" as well and that being disciples of Jesus should impact every area of our lives?
Much of the controversy highlighted by Herman Cain's mosque comments centered not on the building of mosques for worship, but the concern that many Muslims are using the mosques to advocate for the imposition or adoption of Sharia law in America. This, to the extent that it is occurring, is a legitimate and serious concern.
Even a cursory analysis reveals sharia law to be in violation of at least three of the Constitution's amendments, the First, the Eighth and the Fourteenth. Sharia law violates the First Amendment's prohibitions against a government "Establishment of religion," the Eighth Amendment's protections against "cruel and unusual punishments," and the Fourteenth Amendment's guarantee of "equal protection" under the laws of the land.
The imposition of Sharia law would thus require the extensive revision and amending of the U.S. Constitution. Remember, this is a national decision, without the "local option" to ignore the Constitution at the municipal or state level.
If Muslims wish to advocate for Sharia law through the democratic process they are free to do so, but with the understanding that they must convince the American nation to vote to amend their Constitution in order to alter fundamentally our basic freedoms. In the meantime, if Muslims seek to vote in Sharia law at any level as an alternative to our current legal system, they must be opposed vigorously and unrelentingly in the judicial system at every level for attempting to subvert the Bill of Rights. If they advocate or seek to impose Sharia law by non-democratic or violent means, they should be arrested for sedition.
Do Muslims have the right to worship? Yes! Do they have the right to advocate through democratic processes to change our Constitution? Yes! Do they have the right to use our system to advocate for a "local option" in majority Muslim communities for ignoring the Constitution in favor of Sharia law? No! Do they have the right to use our freedoms to advocate or work for the non-democratic overthrow of our Constitution? Never!
Richard Land is president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. This column first appeared at ChristianPost.com.