The Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom – one of three accomplishments listed on Thomas Jefferson’s epitaph – reads in part, “no man shall…suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief.” In his autobiography, Jefferson made it clear he meant all religions there.
Some legislators wanted to name Jesus Christ in the statute, but they were voted down. Thus, Jefferson wrote, the law was meant “to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahommedan, the Hindoo, and Infidel of every denomination.”
The First Amendment’s guarantees of religious freedom drew inspiration from the Virginia statute. It formed the basis of America’s one true shared religious value: We do not discriminate on the basis of religious belief.
On Monday, Donald Trump suggested the United States ban all Muslims – including American citizens currently traveling abroad – from entering the country, indefinitely.
He didn’t offer details on how he’d carry out this plan of his; he never does. He didn’t say how he’d tell Christians with Arab names apart from Muslims with Arab names, or if this only applied to Middle Eastern Muslims or European, African and Asian Muslims as well. (Indonesia has more Muslims than any other country in the world.)
What Trump has made perfectly clear is his willingness to dismantle the most fundamental principles that define our nation. As president, Donald Trump told us Monday, he would undo America.
Conservatives and liberals tend to disagree on the particulars of what it means to be patriotic. If we have one thing in common, it’s that we both think our own beliefs make us more patriotic than the other side.
But if there’s one definition we should agree on, it’s this: Being patriotic means loving and protecting the fundamental principles that make the United States a free country. We’d have disagreements on the particulars, of course. Many conservatives seem to think protesting college students are a threat to free speech, while most liberals believe the Second Amendment should apply only to well-regulated militias.
Even when it comes to religious freedom we can disagree, as recent arguments over birth control and wedding cakes demonstrate. But anyone who takes a moment to breathe and consider would realize that applying a religious test to immigration – not to mention own citizens – must know that it is a profound violation of the most basic values we are all supposed to share.