Donald Trump's vision of "religious freedom" is a totalitarian nightmare

The GOP frontrunner wants to shut down mosques and require Muslims to wear IDs. The parallels are disturbing

Published November 19, 2015 4:50PM (EST)

Donald Trump (AP/Rich Schultz)
Donald Trump (AP/Rich Schultz)

It was only months ago when the American political debate was almost entirely commandeered by the story of a Kentucky clerk named Kim Davis and her crusade to protect her religious liberty. Specifically, she refused to authorize same-sex marriage licenses because her Christian faith allegedly forbids it. No one was forcing Davis herself to marry or have sex with another woman, of course, and there's nothing in the Bible that explicitly forbids authorizing a same-sex marriage. (To wit: When the Bible was written, the ancients had no concept of same-sex marriage, so it's literally impossible for it to be explicitly forbidden.)

But Davis played the martyr anyway and the Republican Party, from the establishment on down, joined her crusade. Everyone from Mike Huckabee to Rush Limbaugh to John McCain endorsed Davis' right to refuse licenses to same-sex couples on the grounds that doing so violated her religious freedom as mandated by the free exercise clause of the First Amendment.

Indeed, much like the concept of patriotism, the GOP has co-opted and branded religious liberty, even though roughly 83 percent of Democrats identify as religious in some form, compared with 93 percent of Republicans.

However, the rarely-spoken secret among Republicans is that its zealotry on religious freedom only extends to Christians and Jews. Any time Islam is in the news, and there's fear to be marketed for political expedience, the GOP completely betrays its religious freedom posture -- stumbling over itself to demonize Muslims and to restrict religious liberty because a relatively minuscule fraction of Muslims committed terrible crimes.

Such is the case this week following the terrorist attacks in Paris. The GOP, devoid of strong leadership or a message that'll resonate outside the far-right bubble, is engaged in another bout of incoherent flailing on the subject of what to do about millions of Syrian refugees. Not only that, but many A-list Republicans have once again turned their attention to Muslim Americans who have nothing to do with ISIS or terrorism in general.

The assault began this week with Fox News Channel's Sean Hannity and guest Bo Dietl fantasizing about electronic surveillance of American mosques with suspected ties to extremism. Dietl, in particular, said, "We broke so many, so many plots by eavesdropping on these radical Mosques. We've got to do it again. And let's stop worrying about people's rights."

This is an odd position, especially when coupled with news this week about a loophole in the firearm background check system that allows suspects on the FBI's terrorism watch list to purchase guns -- a loophole the GOP and its sugar-daddies in the National Rifle Association refuse to close. Why? Because Second Amendment rights. Put another way: would-be terrorists have the right to buy an AR-15, but innocent Muslim-Americans don't have the right to practice their religion in private without being surveilled, proving that the Second Amendment is far more important to Republicans than the First. More precisely, defending the Second Amendment pays better than defending the First.

Then, during Tuesday night's edition of Hannity, Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump said that we should entirely close mosques in order to prevent an attack inside the U.S.

Politico reported:

"Nobody wants to say this and nobody wants to shut down religious institutions or anything, but you know, you understand it. A lot of people understand it. We’re going to have no choice," the Republican presidential said in an interview from Trump Tower on Fox News' "Hannity" on Tuesday night. [...]

"There’s absolutely no choice. Some really bad things are happening and they're happening fast," he said, taking a dig at President Barack Obama's response to the attacks. "Certainly a lot faster than our president understands because he doesn't understand anything. He doesn't get it. Refuses to even call it by its correct name," which Trump termed "radical Islam."

Given the spectrum of proposed solutions to the refugee problem, Obama's strategy is objectively more sound than Trump's proposal for "building a big beautiful safe zone" for refugees. I'm not making that up, by the way. That's Trump's plan: a big beautiful safe zone that wouldn't realistically be ready until at least 2017, not taking into consideration how exactly he'd get away with literally building a safe zone inside civil war-torn Syria. Who "doesn't understand anything" again?

But that's not even the worst of Trump's position on the Muslim community. In an interview published Thursday by Yahoo's Hunter Walker, the billionaire went even further:

Yahoo News asked Trump whether this level of tracking might require registering Muslims in a database or giving them a form of special identification that noted their religion. He wouldn’t rule it out.

“We’re going to have to — we’re going to have to look at a lot of things very closely,” Trump said when presented with the idea. “We’re going to have to look at the mosques. We’re going to have to look very, very carefully.”

To anyone with a decent grasp of history, such proposals are chilling, to say the least.

Scores of innocent Muslim-Americans will be told by the Trump government that they're not permitted to freely practice their religion as constitutionally protected Americans. Along those lines, not only would Trump's plans fail to hold up in any court, regardless of the political leanings of the presiding judges, but we'd have no choice but to ask why churches aren't closed in the wake of terrorist attacks perpetrated by Christians. Indeed, 19 of the 26 post-9/11 terrorist attacks on American soil were carried out by non-Muslim whites, many of whom were presumably Christian.

Any thinking human being can see the grotesque unconstitutionality and horrendous bigotry of Trump's plan. It's only made worse when we realize that no one would seriously propose the closure of Christian churches or Jewish synagogues, but in Trump's addled brain it's okay for the party of religious freedom to single out mosques. At least the GOP is consistent in its xenophobic, knee-jerk stupidity.

This is what happens when a party is so completely sidetracked by pandering to the ignoramus base rather than putting forth serious policy agendas. Sadly, issuing a complicated position paper about ways to surgically confront ISIS while sensibly dealing with the refugee crisis won't play well with Republican primary voters. Too complicated. Too smart. The base is way too terrified to countenance such a thought. So, Trump's anti-Muslim plans are perfectly in line with most of the GOP's laughable ideas these days. Instead of serious policies, we get tax plans based on biblical tithing; immigration proposals that involve somehow corralling 12 million men, women and children and frog-marching them to Mexico; and "big beautiful" foreign policy solutions that sound like they were devised by a child with too many Lego blocks -- with, of course, apologies to children and Legos.

By Bob Cesca

Bob Cesca is a regular contributor to Salon. He's also the host of "The Bob Cesca Show" podcast, and a weekly guest on both the "Stephanie Miller Show" and "Tell Me Everything with John Fugelsang." Follow him on Facebook and Twitter. Contribute through LaterPay to support Bob's Salon articles -- all money donated goes directly to the writer.