Robert Spencer’s Double-Standard on Religious Freedom
Anti-Muslim activists often complain that Muslims living in this country don’t effectively assimilate into American culture, that they consider themselves Muslims first and Americans second. Despite the fact that polling has found that Muslim Americans are actually the most loyal religious group in the nation – 93 percent of Muslim Americans say they are loyal to America, and Muslims have the highest confidence in the integrity of the US election process – far-right pundits continue to further the myth that Muslims lack commitment to this country because their faith puts them in conflict with constitutional law.
In fact, the concept of prioritizing faith principles before the law is not unique to Muslims. Prominent Christian figures such as Pat Robertson have publicly remarked that they consider themselves Christians first and Americans second. Perhaps even more telling is the extent to which the current contraception mandate controversy is dominating the political conversation, with some Catholic leaders suggesting they would shut down their hospitals and schools or perform civil disobedience instead of complying with a law they believe conflicts with their faith.
At the recent CPAC conference here in Washington, Nick interviewed prominent anti-Islam activist Robert Spencer and found this exact double standard. Spencer criticizes Muslims for prioritizing Islam over US law, while going on to say he would put his Christian faith first in a situation where Christianity came into conflict with the law:
FPL: A lot of people point to polls that Muslims in various countries suggest that they’re Muslims first and then loyal to that country second – American second, or Spanish second. Do you think that’s a problem and are you worried about that?
Spencer: It’s a big problem, and it’s something that has to be taken into account…when it comes to Islamic law and the constitution, there are many, many ways in which Islamic law contradicts the constitutional freedoms. Then if somebody has a loyalty to Sharia, to Islam first, then that’s very problematic.
FPL: And would you describe yourself as American first, or as a person of faith first?
Spencer: I’m an American and a person of faith. And I believe that my faith, as a Christian, isn’t incompatible with the constitutional freedoms. But Islamic law is manifestly incompatible with constitutional freedoms.
FPL: So would you describe yourself as an American first and a Christian second, or Christian first and American second?
Spencer: Neither one. I think it’s a distinction when it comes to Christianity that thus far, there has not been a problematic issue of allegiance. If it comes down to the new Obama directives with the Catholic Church, for example, forcing it to go back on its own policies and its own doctrine…then obviously those are unjust laws that ought not to be passed.
FPL: So if there was a conflict between your faith and the law, you would choose your faith?
The hypocrisy is apparent. If conservatives are concerned with religious liberty, then that liberty ought to be applied to faith traditions across the board, including Islam. At the same conference, conservative paragon Grover Norquist made this same point (around the 2:42 mark):
FPL: So do you think it harms the conservative argument for religious liberty…when [Republican candidates] have previously expressed some similar concerns to extending this [liberty] to Muslim Americans?
Norquist: You can’t be for religious liberty for some people and not others, or the whole thing falls apart. No one in court is going to rule that way. The court will either go with, yes you can ban synagogues, mosques, missionaries and Catholic hospitals– or you can’t do any of that…I’ve noticed that all faith traditions recognize that an attack on one is an attack on all.
As Norquist points out, Spencer’s duplicitous arguments about Islam fall flat. When it comes to religious freedom, the far right cannot have its cake and eat it too.