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Carson and Religion in the Public Square

Ben Carson said some objectionable things yesterday about Muslims, but I thought this defense of his position was by far the strangest one he could offer:

Muslims feel that their religion is very much a part of your public life and what you do as a public official, and that’s inconsistent with our principles and our Constitution.

I say this is the strangest defense he could offer because it is extremely easy to imagine this same argument being deployed against Carson–or any religious conservative–in exactly the same way. A significant part of Carson’s support comes from evangelicals, his public rhetoric is full of expressions of his religious faith, he invokes Scripture when talking about policy, and I suspect he would be among the first to condemn attempts to drive Christian teachings out of the public square. More than most of his competitors, Carson would presumably affirm that Christianity ought to be “very much a part of your public life and what you do as a public official” and he would object to the idea that it be kept strictly separate from political life. Indeed, many Christian conservatives are rallying behind him because of this.

And yet all of that goes out the window when it comes to Muslims, and that is simply because they are Muslims rather than the sort of religious Americans of whom Carson approves. It’s a mistake to view Muslims as a monolithic bloc, and it’s simply wrong–and contrary to the principles of our political system–to insist on subjecting Muslims to a harsher and more demanding standard than that applied to the adherents of any other religion. On top of that, it is self-defeating to insist on the great importance of protecting religious liberty for Christians while declaring in the next breath that members of a religious minority cannot be considered fully American. That is essentially what the Carson campaign has been saying to defend the candidate’s remarks, and that’s a deplorable thing to say.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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