Sign-up to receive our free newsletter.
Source: American Thinker
A common assumption is that a national right of freedom of religion is afforded by the U.S. Constitution. Regarding the Ground Zero mosque, how many times have we heard that though the imam has the right to build it, maybe that wouldn’t be the wisest decision? Speaking at the 2010 White House iftar dinner, Barack Obama commented not on the wisdom, but on the supposed right:
But let me be clear. As a citizen, and as President, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country. And that includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in Lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances. This is America. And our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakeable. The principle that people of all faiths are welcome in this country and that they will not be treated differently by their government is essential to who we are. The writ of the Founders must endure.
Now enter Herman Cain in 2011. Regarding another controversial mosque proposal, this one in Tennessee, Mr. Cain recently expressed his view to a newsperson that localities may ban mosques. Here’s how the AFP reports the story:
Republican presidential hopeful Herman Cain on Sunday said US communities that want to ban mosques have a right to do so, as he backed opponents of a mosque being built in Tennessee.
“Islam is both a religion and a set of laws — Sharia laws. That’s the difference between any one of our traditional religions where it’s just about religious purposes,” Cain told Fox News Sunday.
Asked whether a community, like the one in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, should be able to “ban a mosque,” Cain replied: “Yes, they have the right to do that.”
That’s not a politically correct answer — but it’s constitutionally correct.
First, the heretical statements: contrary to what many believe, there is no federal right to freedom of religion. And people do not have an automatic right to build mosques in Tennessee or any other state.
Above, Mr. Obama says that Muslims have the right to build mosques “in accordance with local laws and ordinances.” But what if a state or local law were to prohibit the building of mosques? You can bet your bottom dollar that Obama would say that a federal right of religious freedom trumps the state law.
But contrary to what Obama believes, the writ of the Founders was to prevent the federal government from exerting central control over the states in the ordinary affairs of life, including matters of religion.
The U.S. Constitution was ratified with the assurance that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” In context, the Constitution says what the federal government cannot do; it does not provide a nationwide right of religious freedom.
The states are not prohibited by the Constitution from either establishing religion or prohibiting free exercise. In fact, during the period when the individual states ratified the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, most had their own official state religions. Many states endorsed the Christian religion well into the mid-20th century.
In 1808, President Thomas Jefferson broke from his two predecessors and decided against issuing a national proclamation for religious exercise. Jefferson did so because of our federalist system of government created by the Constitution.
Explaining his position by letter to Samuel Miller, Jefferson wrote that his decision:
…results not only from the provision that no law shall be made respecting the establishment, or free exercise, or religion, but from that also which reserves to the states the powers not delegated to the US. Certainly no power to prescribe any religious exercise, or to assume authority in religious discipline, has been delegated to the general [federal] government.