Alabama, Islam, and the Founding Fathers’ Belief in Religious Tolerance
by Craig Considine
Recent comments made by the Chief Justice of Alabama shows that much work needs to be done in educating some of America’s most powerful figures on the history of religious tolerance in America, especially as it pertains to Muslims.
Speaking at the Pastor for Life Luncheon, which was sponsored by Pro-Life Mississippi, Chief Justice Roy Moore of the Alabama Supreme Court claimed that the First Amendment of the Constitution only applies to Christians because “Buddha didn’t create us, Muhammad didn’t create us, it was the God of the Holy Scriptures” who created us. Chief Justice Moore added, “They didn’t bring the Quran over on the pilgrim ship… Let’s get real, let’s go back and learn our history. Let’s stop playing games.”
Chief Justice Moore’s comments on American history are ironic considering that the tolerant and pluralist vision of America’s founding fathers does not reflect his anti-Muslim bigotry.
George Washington, the first president of the US, stated in 1783, “the bosom of America is open to receive… the oppressed and persecuted of all nations and religions, whom we shall welcome to a participation of all our rights and privileges… They may be [Muslims], Jews, or Christians of any sect, or they may be atheists.”
Washington’s idea of America was that the country should be founded upon religious freedom, liberty, and justice for all, principles that Chief Justice Moore wants to apply only to Christians.
Washington was not the only founding fathers who extended American rights to non-Christians. Writing for the Virginia colonial legislature in 1777, Thomas Jefferson , the author of the Declaration of Independence, noted that “the Jew, the Gentile, the Christian, and the [Muslim], the [Hindu], and infidel of every denomination” are welcome to the US. Jefferson’s statue at the University of Virginia also shows him holding a tablet which states, “Religious Freedom, 1786,” below which is inscribed “Allah” alongside “Brahma.”
Chief Justice Moore has turned his back on the very idea of America. The great motto of the US government, E Pluribus Unum, means “out of many, one.” This seal envisions one people, a common sense of a civic “we,” but not one homogenous nation made up of only Christians.
The vision of the founding fathers encourages us to have dialogue and interfaith encounters in which we engage in constructive criticism and self-criticism. However, to have this dialogue, we must first educate ourselves on our own national principles of religious freedom, liberty, and justice for all.