Saturday, August 11, 2007

Bill Sali backtracks

-- by Dave

So after sticking his foot in it the other day by quite plainly arguing that Muslims do not belong in a real American Congress, Republican Rep. Bill Sali of Idaho is eagerly backtracking now, saying that he didn't really mean to imply that Muslims should not be serving in Congress, nor should there be Hindu prayers in the Senate:
Idaho Congressman Bill Sali said today a Minnesota Muslim congressman has every right to serve in Washington, D.C., but he hopes the country's leaders continue to follow Christian principles.

Sali said his comments quoted on a conservative Web site should not have given the impression that Democratic Rep. Keith Ellison did not belong in Congress.

"He got elected the same way I did," Sali told the Statesman in a phone interview today. "People certainly have the right to elect anyone they want."

In an interview posted online this week by the Christian news outlet American Family News Network, Sali said: "We have not only a Hindu prayer being offered in the Senate, we have a Muslim member of the House of Representatives now, Keith Ellison from Minnesota. Those are changes — and they are not what was envisioned by the Founding Fathers. The principles that this country was built on, that have made it great over these centuries were Christian principles derived from scriptures. You know, the Lord can cause the rain to fall on the just and the unjust alike."

Sali was quickly attacked by some blogs around the country, including, which pointed out that the founders wrote Article VI, which states that "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."

Sali seems to be disingenuously claiming that he wasn't arguing that Muslims didn't belong in Congress -- he was only pointing out that this was something the Founding Fathers didn't envision. Nothing wrong with that, is there?

Well, to begin with, there is something wrong with that: The Founding Fathers did in fact anticipate that perhaps even Muslims might be participants in the American Dream. I actually was mistaken to suggest that the Founding Fathers were silent on the subject; as Barbara O'Brien at Mahablog points out, Thomas Jefferson in fact wrote explicitly on the subject in his autobiography:
The bill for establishing religious freedom, the principles of which had, to a certain degree, been enacted before, I had drawn in all the latitude of reason & right. It still met with opposition; but, with some mutilations in the preamble, it was finally passed; and a singular proposition proved that it’s protection of opinion was meant to be universal. Where the preamble declares that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed, by inserting the word “Jesus Christ,” so that it should read “a departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion.” The insertion was rejected by a great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of it’s protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and infidel of every denomination.

And, as Nash notes in my comments:
Quotations from the various founders are discussed in this context in a 2002 Library of Congress bulletin by James H. Hutson. These include quotes from Jefferson and Richard Henry Lee, as well as a description by Jefferson of the significance of an action taken by the Virginia legislature in 1786.

In various of these quotes, "Mahamdans" or "Mahometans" or "Mohometans" are included as examples of the religious followers being discussed.

As Hutson says:

The Founders of this nation explicitly included Islam in their vision of the future of the republic. Freedom of religion, as they conceived it, encompassed it. Adherents of the faith were, with some exceptions, regarded as men and women who would make law-abiding, productive citizens. Far from fearing Islam, the Founders would have incorporated it into the fabric of American life.

Further, gmoke notes in my comments that Benjamin Franklin likewise spoke of Muslims in the context of religious freedom in America, citing page 149 of The First American; The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin by H. W. Brands (New York: Doubleday, 2000):
"... [Benjamin] Franklin helped arrange the construction of a new building (prosaically called the 'New Building') for the express purpose of hosting preachers unwelcome in the regular pulpits of the city. Franklin spoke his desires rather than strict reality when he declared in his autobiography that 'if the Mufti of Constantinople were to send a missionary to preach Mahometanism to us, he would find a pulpit at his service.'"

OK, so perhaps Sali is just ill-informed. That wouldn't be new. But it might be easier to take Sali's claims at face value were he not one of those folks in Congress who makes a fetish out of the intent of the "Founding Fathers" and "constitutional values" as though they held certain magical powers. Note, for instance, how harkening back to the values of the Founders is one of the central notes of this Sali campaign speech by Alan Keyes back in 2006.

It couldn't have been more clear that Sali was arguing that the presence of Muslims in the Congress was an insult to the intent of the Founders and as such did not belong, though once the remarks got out and it was clear such a position was politically untenable, Sali began scrambling to find a way to say, no, he hadn't said such a thing.

But it's going to be a lot harder for him to make that case when his regular defenders among the fundamentalist set, such as the Idaho Values Alliance, defends him by saying he's right -- that, indeed, his "concerns" were "eminently justified":
Despite the Christophobic firestorm directed at Rep. Sali, he is exactly right with regard to both of his concerns.

Hindus believe in a virtually infinite number of gods, and worship cows, monkeys and snakes. Our Founding Fathers, on the other hand, believed in one God, the Creator God revealed in the Old and New Testaments, the God who is the source of our inalienable civil rights and liberties.

As a people, we pledge allegiance to "one nation under God," not "one nation under gods." Hindus are certainly free in America to worship as many gods and animals as they want to, but we must not be deluded into thinking that they pray to or worship the same God who is enshrined in our Declaration of Independence.

Congressional invocations are not just ceremonial in nature, but substantive. They are one of the crucial ways in which our leaders seek the assistance of the God who granted us such signal blessings at the time of our founding and for over 200 years since.

For the sake of our country's future and continued prosperity, it's important that we maintain the custom of the Founders, so that the God we call upon in congressional invocations continues to be the God of George Washington, John Adams, James Madison, Franklin Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy.

You get the picture: Hindus are unworthy of religious freedom and a role in American society because they worship critters. Sigh. (For a more balanced explanation of Hinduist beliefs, just check the Wikipedia entry.)

But wait! We can't forget Islam! Like the Ronco peeler, there's more:
Further, Rep. Sali's caution with regard to Islam and public policy is wise. The citizens of Minnesota certainly have the right to send anybody to Washington they wish, but when you examine nations whose public institutions have been shaped by Islamic politicians, you invariably find no freedom of religion, no freedom of speech, no freedom of conscience, no fundamental rights for women, and no freedom for ordinary citizens to choose their own leaders.

It is still a capital offense in 22 Muslim nations to convert from Islam to Christianity. In Saudi Arabia, it is illegal even to worship Christ in public, and officials there continue to confiscate Bibles, crucifixes, and Stars of David even from tourists who bring them into the country.

If an Islamic-inspired worldview were to shape America's public policy, this country would become a far different land than the one bequeathed to us by our Founding Fathers.

It would no longer be the "sweet land of liberty" of which we sing but something tyrannical and repressive. That's not the kind of nation the American people want, and Rep. Sali is right on target in issuing his word of caution.

So, in other words, he wasn't mistaken to suggest that Hindus and Muslims can never make real Americans. Right.
...The question then is not whether Sen. Harry Reid has the right to ask a Hindu to offer an invocation, for clearly he does, nor whether the people of Minnesota have the right to send a Muslim to Congress, for clearly they do. And despite hysterical accusations to the contrary, Rep. Sali has never questioned those rights.

The question is not whether they have the right to do what they did, but whether they were smart and wise to do so.

Certainly in our public discourse there must be a place for reflection here, and to ask whether their actions represent prudence and whether, as a matter of political wisdom, these things are good or bad for America and its future.

Ah, we get it. This is what's unsaid in Sali's mea culpa. They mesh rather neatly, actually: He's not arguing that Muslims and Hindus don't belong in Congress -- it's just that allowing them there means we're all going to roast in fiery Apocalypse from a wrathful Christian God. Or something along those lines.

Why, that makes perfect sense.

Well, I think we can get to the bottom of this: Note that Sali, in his apologia, contends that the problem is multiculturalism:
"The idea that somehow we can move to multi-culturalism and still remain the same — I think that's a little dangerous, too," he said. "From my standpoint, I believe the Founding Fathers were overwhelmingly Christian and the God they were talking about is the God of the Bible."

Well, a lot of folks on the right say they hate multiculturalism, but they never get around to identifying what the alternative is.

And the alternative to multiculturalism is the rule envisioned by the Founding Fathers, which is to say, rule by white male Christian property owners. And that, really, is what Bill Sali is claiming America is all about.

As it happens, I know a few non-males, a few non-whites, and a few non-Christians who would all disagree.

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