James Madison's "shaking off" of religious tyranny
An explanation: The verdict in the Holy Land Foundation trial destroyed something in me. The shock was too much. A great mystery to me is how the families and friends of the defendants have managed to carry on since November 24. The community of which Shukri, Mohammad, Ghassan, Mufid, and Abdulrahmen are such an important part have always welcomed me, for which I am more grateful than I can say. But my own community was completely unavailable to me at the time of the conviction. Many Christians of Dallas seemed to be much like the Jewish temple officials in Jesus’ story about the man attacked by thieves. They could not be sullied by touching anyone unclean. It was left to a hated Samaritan to care for him. Through the ordeal of the trial and conviction, I learned a lesson I did not expect – “respectable” people do not associate with friends and families of convicted felons, no matter how unjust the convictions.
For ten months I have been unable to write with this space in mind.
However, this week, I read two items, one from the news and one a "scholarly" article, that have reminded me why I followed the HLF trial in the first place, and came to know and love the defendants and their families and friends. Both pieces stirred up my grief at the injustice that motivates much of the public life of the United States.
James Madison set out the role of religion in American public life in his Memorial and Remonstrance in 1785:
It is the duty of every man to render to the Creator such homage and such only as he believes to be acceptable to him. This duty is precedent, both in order of time and in degree of obligation, to the claims of Civil Society. Before any man can be considered as a member of Civil Society, he must be considered as a subject of the Governour of the Universe: And if a member of Civil Society, [he must be so only by] a saving of his allegiance to the Universal Sovereign. We maintain therefore that in matters of Religion, no man's right is abridged by the institution of Civil Society and that Religion is wholly exempt from its cognizance.
It is clear. One owes allegiance to God "only as he believes to be acceptable to him." And that allegiance cannot be "abridged by the institution of Civil Society."
The supposedly scholarly article I read begins with this sentence:
Jews and evangelicals have made important strides in understanding each other in recent years. (1) Issues such as America's Christian heritage, (2) the legitimacy of the State of Israel, (3) and the need for evangelical pro-Israeli support in the midst of Israel's struggle for survival have been discussed. (1)
This article purports to be about "religious liberty" as it has been agreed to by Jews and Evangelical Christians at the Air Force Academy in Colorado. In actuality it is a propaganda piece for two ideas: 1) The United States is a “Christian nation;” and 2) Jews and Evangelicals, because they are both dedicated—for their own and conflicting reasons—to the survival of the State of Israel, must work together to maintain the preeminence of Evangelical Christianity in America.
The other piece I read is about the firing of Debbie Almontaser as the principal of the Kalil Gibran International Academy in New York. The Academy was founded as an Arabic-language public school. Daniel Pipes and his minions stirred up a controversy to get Ms. Almontaster fired. She sued. Two days ago, her lawsuit was thrown out by a judge who said that the Department of Education “had not abridged Almontaser's First Amendment protections in forcing her resignation over idiotic statements made in the course of her job.” (2)
I will write more about Ms. Almontaser’s case in a succeeding post. Suffice it to say that the case turns on her use of the phrase “shaking-off” instead of "uprising" to translate “intifada” (as the Merriam Webster Dictionary does--see my new Blog heading) which Pipes and the American media prefer to further their decades-long character assassination of all Palestinians and Muslims.
The obvious anti-Muslim, anti-Arab undercurrent in both the “scholarly” article and Ms. Almontaser’s case is this: When Evangelical Christians are called to task for practicing their religious indoctrination at the academy where US Air Force officers are trained, they are, with the help of Zionist sympathizers, allowed to dictate what “religious liberty” means. On the other hand, a Muslim Arab-American educator is not allowed even to explain the actual meaning of an Arabic word because it does not please the most rabid defender of Israel in this country.
The underlying injustice of the Holy Land Foundation trial is ubiquitous.
(1) Lillback, Peter A. "Pluralism, postmodernity, and religious liberty: the abiding necessity of free speech and religious convictions in the public square." Journal of Ecumenical Studies 44.1 (Winter 2009): 26-57.
(2) NYDailyNews.com Thursday, September 3rd 2009.