Constitutional Opinions

A Religious Test

On the sidewalks of Dearborn, Michigan, Christians need to be able to practice their faith too.

By and 6.26.09

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In Dearborn, Michigan, where the local mosque's call to prayer is broadcast over the town by loudspeakers, a group of Christian evangelists were told that they could not pass out Bibles on the sidewalk during a festival. This is part of a growing national trend to disfavor Christian expression and traditional speech, and reflects a disturbing direction in public policy in America today.

The city of Dearborn hosts one of the largest per-capita Muslim populations in the United States. With many immigrants from the Middle East, Dearborn reflects the Islamic character of these residents. Nothing illustrates this better than the fact that Dearborn is one of the few cities in this country where you can hear the Islamic calls to prayer from the local mosque all over the city, broadcast over loudspeakers.

However, this city has also seen a recent demonstration of religious intolerance against adherents of a different faith. A group of Arab Christians wanted to hand out copies of Christian literature on the sidewalks during the annual Dearborn Arab International Festival, which attracts over 100,000 people. The ministry group, Arab Christian Perspective, was denied permission to hand out material on the sidewalk and was told they could only do so from inside a small booth assigned to them by festival organizers. The group sued, and a federal judge has refused to grant their request to be able to offer information on the sidewalks.

This is only the latest example of such one-sided action. Four years ago, a federal judge in Indiana who has been nominated by President Barack Obama to the Seventh Circuit appeals court, David Hamilton, ordered that prayers in the Indiana statehouse could be offered to "Allah" but could not be offered in the name of "Jesus." (This suit was later dismissed by the Seventh Circuit, on which Judge Hamilton will now sit.)

And although washing stations for Muslims are being constructed in some public restrooms, witches (adherents of the pagan religion Wicca) are being granted rights to practice their faith in prison, and other accommodations of various faiths are happening, the Ninth Circuit appeals court recently held that a war memorial in the shape of a cross in the Mojave desert must be removed, and even blocked a land swap deal with the Veterans of Foreign Wars to take over the memorial in exchange for donating equal land back to the public park, ordering the memorial's destruction instead. (The Supreme Court has now taken this case on appeal.)

Despite the mainstream media's ignoring of these things, the reality remains that Christians are denied equal rights of free speech and freely exercising religion that other groups are enjoying. This amounts to denying religious equality to millions of Americans.

This country has a rich tradition of religious tolerance. America has always been a country where most of its citizens profess to be Christians, despite President Obama's insistence that we are not a Christian nation and instead calling us one of the world's largest Muslim nations. And we have the world's best record of religious tolerance of other faiths held by a minority of Americans, despite President Obama's suggestions during his ongoing worldwide apology tour that America is sometimes intolerant in our "arrogance."

Religious tolerance should mean that the government benevolently accommodates everyone's faith in our society so long as it is peaceful. Christians should be free to pass out literature on sidewalks, practice their faith, and share the Christian gospel to others, just as those of other faiths can freely talk about their faith with those around them.

America's melting pot contains every religion found around the world. Although not all religious beliefs can be equally true (because the teachings of any one faith contradict some teachings of other faiths), it is not for the government to pick winners and losers in theological matters. We all have the legal right to practice and share our faith with others, and the Constitution requires that the government be equally tolerant of all peaceful expressions of faith, regardless of whether others find it offensive.

It's time that Christians were shown the same courtesy that government is showing to others.

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About the Author
Ken Blackwell, the former mayor of Cincinnati, Ohio is Vice Chairman of the Republican National Committee's Platform Committee. He also serves on the boards of the Club For Growth and the National Taxpayers Union.
About the Author

Ken Klukowski is a fellow with the American Civil Rights Union and is on faculty at Liberty University School of Law.