I attended a state Democratic caucus a while back, to help choose my next president. It was Nebraska’s first caucus, and my first as an ex-Republican. The faces were different—younger, bright-eyed, hipper. Maybe not the people I’d want managing my IRA, but definitely people I’d rather drink with.
It was fun to feel the group’s buzz , to sense the camaraderie of 1200 people in one room, on the cusp of something big. As the alignment was growing lopsidedly pro-Obama, a commotion erupted behind me. About fifty people began shouting in unison at a little old lady: “Not here! Not here!” and “Go away! Go away!” I’m told she had started the ruckus by yelling out, “Don’t you know he’s a Muslim?” They swarmed her faster than if she had waived a weapon, and eventually the human tidal wave washed her unceremoniously out a back exit, and the lock clicked cleanly as the steel door shut her out. There was applause. They dusted off their hands and turned back to the lovefest.
It was not a great moment for free speech. I learned that, when push comes to literal shove, Democrats are about as tolerant as Republicans.
I was a little disappointed to learn Obama wasn’t Muslim. How wacked would al-Qaida be if suddenly their mortal enemy elected one of them? It would sure take the gas out of recruiting suicide bombers. Maybe we should just elect Osama bin Laden’s mom. Are you going to call your own mother The Great Satan? Not if you don’t want to be grounded, buster.
All that Muslim hatred—I suppose it was those darned Crusades that set them off in the first place. It was definitely before we waved the “freedom of religion” flag. Should they just get over it? Just like Jews have gotten over the Holocaust? Just like blacks have gotten over slavery? Yeah, Muslims—just get over it.
As a four-day-old, I made the decision to be baptized a Methodist. Since then, I’ve hung out with the Baptists (they rejected me because I couldn’t swim), the Presbyterians, fundamentalists, and a church full of people whose motto was “Can’t we all just hug?” As you can see, my religious commitment is of the Play-Doh variety.
Still, nobody chooses my religion for me. Not here. We have our forefathers to thank for that. If you think electing a Muslim president would somehow make us all Muslim, you’ve managed to forget the basis of just about every U.S. war but the “civil” one.
Freedom of religion isn’t a freedom to paste the Ten Commandments on everything. (Though it wouldn’t hurt.) And it isn’t a freedom from being exposed to someone else’s beliefs. The First Amendment is simply the freedom to work it out for yourself, without punishment or coercion, and it is based on the faith that we don’t all have to be the same to co-exist. Indeed, the First Amendment is designed to help us learn a thing or two from each other.
The little old lady picked a questionable time to speak up. But instead of shoving her into the cold, I wish we had patted her hand, offered her some tea, and told her in a soft voice that she was loopy.