American flag waving in blue skyWritten by Don Byrd

This seems like a good time to reiterate that I am not advocating for or against any candidate for President. This blog is about the issues of religious liberty and the separation of church and state. As I have in the past, I will point to candidate proposals and statements that may impact those issues, and comment on them when appropriate to defend important principles of religious liberty.

It is time to defend an important principle of religious liberty.

The news of the day is Donald Trump’s indication that we should create a national registry of Muslim-Americans. In fact, he argues we should “go beyond” a database, whatever that means. The idea of registering Americans based on their religion is abhorrent. It is un-American and dangerous to our democracy.  Do we really need to have this conversation in the year 2015? 

Religious profiling is already an especially insidious form of discrimination. It not only singles out adherents of one faith for unequal treatment, it also subjects them to tremendous scrutiny under the constant threat of loss of liberty. 

As the Baptist Joint Committee has said previously, the religious profiling of American Muslims is based on a “false and unconstitutional premise . . . rooted in ignorance and bias.” Millions of American Muslims live peacefully in this country as full and equal citizens under the law, as free as you or me. We should be reaching out to our Muslim neighbors in this time of heightened fear.

Law enforcement already enjoys significant investigative methods at its disposal to provide for our security. But the Constitution demands some limits. One’s religious beliefs are simply not a proper grounds for suspicion. 

The idea of a national registry multiplies the errors of religious profiling many times over. It casts a shadow of suspicion over an entire faith, and grants the government powerful tools of coercion and intimidation to exploit that suspicion. Such a policy would betray the promise of liberty for all, essentially dismantling the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious freedom.

If we were to allow the government to corral and monitor Muslim-Americans in this way now, who is next? And consider this: how will you prove your faith to a government official when asked? This proposal is a pathway to madness that has no place in a free democracy that promises religious liberty.

We cannot let government decide which religious beliefs are worthy of protection and which are worthy of suspicion and still call ourselves free. And we should not stay silent in the face of such a proposal.