GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump has ratcheted up his politics of fear campaign strategy by exploiting the recent mass shooting in Orlando. This was no surprise to American Muslims and other communities of color, given his previously provocative statements relating to Mexicans and immigrants.
What seems to elude many Americans, however, is that Trump is not simply pouring gasoline on the flames of bigotry against Muslims. If given the position to execute his hyperbolic proposals, Trump would be an assault upon the U.S. Constitution itself.
The current national debate among politicians is in part centered around the Second Amendment and its implications on possible gun control legislation. However, repeated calls for banning Muslims from immigration and even monitoring citizens based upon their religious affiliation assails a fundamental principle, which comes before the right to bear arms. The principle that is under a greater threat is the freedom of religion, which is enshrined in the First Amendment.
A series of European immigrants came to these shores with the hope to freely practice their expressions of Christianity, which were marginalized by monarchs who held quasi-religious authority. The founders of this nation understood that the paramount importance of religious freedom for all Christian denominations meant no one should be targeted due to their religious beliefs, no matter what they are.
For instance, citizens from Chesterfield County, Virginia petitioned the state assembly with the language of “Let Jews, Mehometans [Muslims], and Christians of every denomination find their advantage in living under our laws.”
Obviously, the spirit of this petition to the Virginia State Assembly and the First Amendment have not always been fully lived for religious minorities. Enslaved African Muslims could not freely practice their faith on plantations in the South. Similarly Catholics, Mormons and Jews have faced their share of unequal protection under the law in times past. Our country has also had a de facto exclusion of non-Christians immigrants, such as with the Asian Exclusion Act of 1924.
Despite historical violations of religious freedoms, what Trump is proposing is unprecedented.
Targeting people due to religion, with aspirations of writing execution orders and championing legislation from the Oval Office to specifically isolate one faith has never occurred in American history.
Trump is seeking to take America down a road that even American presidents who owned slaves, like Thomas Jefferson, did not dare tread. This is literally how dangerously radical the current rhetoric is.
Having thoughtful conversations about access to assault weapons, mental illness, gun violence and the roots of violent extremism are definitely issues that our nation should be engaged in.
What we should also be collectively discussing is a unified stance against demagoguery that could potentially set our most precious rights— which are contained in the First Amendment— at risk.
This is not an issue for conservatives or progressives, deists or agnostics, Christians or Muslims. This is an American issue that we must confront together, saying enough is enough.