Answering critical questions about my Islam proposals and the First Amendment

A reader writes:

There is one thing I wanted to ask. In your analyses and prescriptions about immigration and Islam you are mindful of what the First Amendment has to say about freedom of religion, speech, and assembly, right? (Or press or redress for that matter.) I haven’t had time to search for this in everything you’ve written, but I don’t recall it coming up in what I’ve read of yours.

LA replies:

When it comes to immigration, my understanding is that the Congress can allow or not allow any class of persons to immigrate. While non-discrimination has formally controlled our immigration law since 1965, there is no constitutional prescription requiring that. I don’t think the First Amendment could overcome a law barring Muslims from immigrating. Foreign nationals living in foreign countries do not have a constitutionally protected right to immigrate to the U.S. Though I’m sure the liberals will try to change that.

However, most of my other positions, such as closing pro-jihad and pro-sharia mosques, would run up against the First Amendment’s stricture that Congress shall make no law prohibiting the free exercise of religion. That’s why, for a program like mine to withstand constitutional challenges, there must be either a federal statute, or, better, a constitutional amendment, stating that for the purposes of the First Amendment Islam is not a religion, but a political ideology seeking tyrannical power and contrary to our Constitution.

This idea is discussed in my ACT for America talk I just sent you and in the print version of that talk which is linked.

Note that such a change in the First Amendment would have no effect on the First Amendment, except insofar as Islam is concerned. So there’s no slippery slope that can be invoked here. No other religions are threatened by this, only Islam. Islam is sui generis and must treated on its own terms.

Reader replies:


Do you have any legal authority for the proposition that Congress has the power to pass legislation excluding from immigration all adherents of a particular religion, solely because of that adherence?

Do you think it’s a good idea that Congress could pass a law to avoid a constitutional problem by the expedient of saying that something that has been considered, world-wide, to be a religion for 1,300 years is not a “religion” as that word is used in the First Amendment?

Is it fair to assume that you acknowledge that your immigration proposals are illegal without either the statute or constitutional amendment you mention?

Please understand that my not responding to the rest of your reply is not an agreement with the rest. (I know. You’re shocked!)

LA replies:

“Do you have any legal authority for the proposition that Congress has the power to pass legislation excluding from immigration all adherents of a particular religion, solely because of that adherence?”

As I said before, I’m not aware that Congress is under any constitutional restraints concerning the determination of who may immigrate to the U.S.

Once people are here, of course, it’s a different question.

“Do you think it’s a good idea that Congress could pass a law to avoid a constitutional problem by the expedient of saying that something that has been considered, world-wide, to be a religion for 1,300 years is not a ‘religion’ as that word is used in the First Amendment?”

Well, that’s the whole point, isn’t it? That’s the crux on which our freedom and survival depend. Our understandding of Islam is false. If we don’t bring our ideas into conformity with reality, if we don’t think anew and act anew, we are finished.

Consider these three facts: :

Islam is a religion and a political ideology which is designed by its founder as an eternal program of war dedicated to the submission of all non-Muslims by a variety of means, whichever will work in a given situation.

We have an immigration law prohibiting any discrimination by nationality, race, religion.

The United States has in its highest law that we can do nothing prohibiting the free exercise of religion.

Thus: (1) Islam is devoted to our destruction; (2) our immigration law says we must let Muslims immigrate; (3) the First Amendment prevents us from suppressing or regulating Islam once it is here.

Those three facts together spell our doom.

Now, if certain understandings and laws spell the doom of your society, and IF YOU WANT YOUR SOCIETY TO LIVE (a questionable proposition when it comes to most liberals), then you will rethink those understandings and laws and correct them.

IF YOU DON’T WANT YOUR SOCIETY TO LIVE (as is the case with most liberals), then you will automatically preclude any correction in those understandings and laws, thus assuring your society’s defeat and doom.

This doesn’t mean that all people against my proposals consciously seek America’s ruin. If you (meaning anyone) consider Islam to be simply a religion, and fail to recognize that it is also a political ideology aimed at the submission of non-Muslims under the sharia law, then, thinking of it as merely a religion and therefore peaceful, you will continue to protect it from all government interference and regulation under the First Amendment and thus you will continue to render your society helpless to defend itself from it.

But if you want your society to avoid coming under the power of Islam, then you have to RECTIFY YOUR WRONG UNDERSTANDING OF THE NATURE OF ISLAM, and understand that it is a political movement aimed at political power, not just a private faith.

But if you don’t want your society to take steps to avoid coming under the power of Islam, then you will say that Islam has always been considered a religion, and therefore that it is improper and totally out of the question to think of it as anything other than a religion, and that someone who says we must think of Islam as something other than a religion is outside the realm of acceptable politics in this country. As you see me.

LA continues:

Note: I’ve proposed two different constitutional amendments in my recent speeches.

In my “Real Islam Policy” speech in February, the constitutional amendment I proposed would prohibit the practice of Islam in the United States. In that amendment I used language paraphrasing the 13th Amendment which prohibits involuntary servitude in the United States. I felt this was appropriate, as Islam is a type of slavery and intends to enslave us.

In my speech this week, the amendment (or statute) I propose is less far reaching. It would not prohibit Islam. Rather, it would declare that Islam is not a religion as religion is understood in the First Amendment. The purpose of the proposed amendment would be to enable the passing of laws against Islam, for example, a law that legal resident aliens who adhere to jihad lose their residency status, or that mosques teaching jihad shall be closed.

Also, since your main criticism of me seems to be that I am not cognizant of the constitutional and customary objections to my proposals, you should read the entire Real Islam speech, because I acknowledge plainly that the things I’m advocating are totally outside our current set of beliefs and laws. But then I add that unless we change those beliefs and laws, we will come under the power of Islam.

In other words, I am not imagining that the laws I am advocating are possible in our current political/intellectual reality. I am saying that in order to get to the point where such laws become possible, our entire way of thinking must change.

—end of initial entry—

LA writes:

On that last point, I would add that while various conservative Islam critics routinely say that in order to defeat the Islam threat we must “restore our confidence in our civilization,” and “get rid of political correctness,” but never tell us what we should DO about Islam once we have regained our confidence and gotten rid of political correctness, I, by contrast, lay out both the preliminary stage we must traverse (consisting of recognizing the reality of Islam and renouncing the belief in non-discrimination as our controlling principle in all circumstances), AND the things we must DO once we get past that preliminary stage.

- end of initial entry -

James T. writes:

The weakness with your argument here is that a “political ideology seeking tyrannical power and contrary to our Constitution”—namely, Communism—posed, arguably, a far greater threat to the American way of life than Islam, and yet was defeated without having to monkey (much) with our First Amendment protections. One could counter that in the 50s and 60s Communists were (rightly) stigmatized and people with Communist sympathies were excluded from certain industries, and that Americans then still had the moral wherewithal to discriminate against Communists or others with anti-American ideologies—but then the solution lies in somehow fixing this inability to discriminate, not, as you suggest, doing violence to our language and traditions by re-naming Islam a “political ideology” or whatnot and outlawing it.

LA replies:

You are arguing from a bad analogy, and thus making a poor argument. Communism was, and is, a political ideology. Islam is both a political ideology and the religion and total way of life of 1.3 billion people united in a world wide nation commanded by its god to dominate the world and equipped with a complete rule book—and Koran and the sharia—for accomplishing that end, through, among other things, demographic infiltration and the steady spread of Islamic influence in the host society. Also, Islam is deeply enduring; Communism is not. People might stop believing in Communism, and many have. Once someone stops personally believing in Communism, he stops being a Communist. By contrast, unless a Muslim actually leaves the Islamic faith—which is a capital offense under Islam—he remains a Muslim always. And as long as a person is a Muslim, even if only “moderate,” he will have a basic solidarity and loyalty to his fellow Muslims as against all non-Muslims.

Thus Communism—a utopian political ideology with no deep roots in any people or way of life—essentially died as an ideology after 74 years of power in the Soviet Union. Islam has lasted for 1,400 years and now controls 57 countries.

Islam is also materially different from Communism by virtue of immigration. There were not millions of Communists entering Europe and the U.S. as part of a mass immigration, though of course in the early 20th century there were many Communist immigrants in the U.S. A handful of them were kicked out as a result of the Palmer raids (it should have been thousands instead of a few hundred), and then in 1921 and 1924, due in significant part to the rational fears of radicalism being brought to the U.S. by immigrants, immigration was drastically curtailed for the next 45 years. By contrast, the mass immigration of Muslims into Europe, North America, and Australia continues.

Also, discrimination against Communists in the 1950s was not just in the areas of jobs and social relationships, as you suggest. Under the 1952 McCarren-Walter Act, prospective immigrants to the U.S. were screened for Communist tendencies and kept out of the United States on that basis.

So your analogy fails. Islam is profoundly different from Communism, and therefore requires different kinds of remedies. However, since official discrimination was used against Communists, you should certainly support the same against Islam.

Finally, you say it would do “violence to our language and traditions” if we re-designated Islam as a political ideology and outlawed it.” How? If Islam is in reality a political movement seeking political power over our society and not just a religion, why should we not call it what it is? How does it do violence to anything to correct a past intellectual error and describe something accurately?

Here is a brief article from a website, This Day in History, which explains the McCarren-Walter Act:

December 24, 1952

McCarren-Walter Act goes into effect

The McCarren-Walter Act takes effect and revises America’s immigration laws. The law was hailed by supporters as a necessary step in preventing communist subversion in the United States, while opponents decried the legislation as being xenophobic and discriminatory.

The act, named after Senator Pat McCarren (Democrat-Nevada) and Representative Francis Walter (Democratic-Pennsylvania), did relatively little to alter the quota system for immigration into the United States that had been established in the Immigration Act of 1924. The skewed nature of the quotas was readily apparent. Immigrants from Great Britain, Ireland, and Germany were allotted two-thirds of the 154,657 spots available each year. However, the act did specifically remove previously established racial barriers that had acted to exclude immigrants from nations such as Japan and China. These countries were now assigned very small quotas.

The changes that were of more concern for many critics centered on the act’s provision of much more strenuous screening of potential immigrants. It banned admission to anyone declared a subversive by the attorney general and indicated that members of communist and “communist-front” organizations were subject to deportation. In defending the act, Senator McCarren declared, “If this oasis of the world should be overrun, perverted, contaminated, or destroyed, then the last flickering light of humanity will be extinguished.” President Harry S. Truman took a very different view, calling the legislation “un-American” and inhumane. When the bill was passed in June 1952, Truman vetoed the bill. Congress overrode his veto, and the act took effect in December. The McCarren-Walter Act set America’s immigration standards until new legislation was passed in 1965.

James T. replies:

I have no problem with official discrimination against Islam if by that you mean limiting immigration from Muslim countries and encouraging non-citizen Muslims to leave. I would agree with you that our country could not survive as it is with a sizable and politically powerful Muslim minority, just as it could not survive with an influential and politically powerful Communist minority, and that it would be—your term—national suicide to keep in place immigration laws that treat all peoples as though they were equally capable of assimilating into our traditional culture. On this, I would hope most true conservatives—if not right-liberals—would agree.

Islam is a religion. True, unlike Christianity, Buddhism and rabbinic Judaism, it is one that commands it followers to seek secular power—but it is still a religion, and as you always tell liberals, words are public property, and you cannot change definitions merely to suit your argument. One of America’s deepest traditions is to allow absolute freedom of conscience for its citizens in choosing a religion. It would do extreme violence to our traditions to outlaw a religion, even one like Islam that many of us perceive to be dangerous.

Now, this does not mean we should hide our heads in the sand and pretend that the widespread adoption of Islam would not be a threat to American national survival. It means, as with Communism, we have to fight it by cutting off—as far as we are able—the supply of new recruits by changing immigration laws, and by exposing its incompatibility with our national life. Sure, these would be hard to accomplish, but not nearly as hard as getting Americans to pass a constitutional amendment that excludes Islam from First Amendment protections.

P.S. Immigration documents still ask if you’re a Communist, though, tellingly, they also ask if you’ve ever prevented someone from freely exercising his religion…

LA replies:

Well argued. However, I would just ask you to look again at the beginning of my “Real Islam” speech, where I say that we must be both realistic and imaginative. The realism part is in recognizing how truly strange, radical, and seemingly impossible is the idea of removing First Amendment protections from a major world religion, like traveling to another planet. The imaginative part is in seeing that, unless we travel to that other planet, we are doomed, and, since I don’t accept that we are doomed, it must be possible to get to that other planet after all.

So long as Islam has First Amendment protections, any actions to resist the growth of its power will be paralyzed. As for your policy prescription of stopping Muslim immigration by “exposing [Islam’s] incompatibility with our national life,” that’s not enough.

Let’s approach the problem this way. Which of the recommended measures in my April 19 speech could be done, with present First Amendment protections in place?

- Muslim immigration must be significantly reduced or stopped altogether.

Technically, I believe the First Amendment would not be a bar to this.

—Muslim illegal aliens must be removed or encouraged to leave.

The First Amendment would not be a bar to this.

—Non-citizen resident aliens who vocally espouse jihad and sharia, or participate in any pro-jihad and pro-sharia activities, should lose their residency and be deported.

Perhaps this could be done with espousers and supporters of jihad. Doing it to espousers of sharia is much more questionable, since sharia is practically identical with Islam. To say that sharia support is not allowed is tantamount to saying that Islam is not allowed.

- No resident alien who adheres to the doctrines of jihad and sharia should be naturalized as a U.S. citizen. To be naturalized, immigrants should be required to state under oath that they totally reject and have no association with jihad and sharia. If they are found later to be in violation of that oath, their naturalization shall be revoked.

Again, perhaps this could be done with respect to support for jihad, but unlikely with respect to support for sharia.

- All mosques, Islamic centers and schools that promote jihad or sharia in any form should be closed.

Shutting down a church for its beliefs? I don’t think this would be possible no matter what the church was preaching.

Also, other, tougher measures I did not mention in my April 19 speech would also probably be impossible with the First Amendment in place, such as offering to pay Muslims to return to their home countries, such as removing the citizenship of naturalized citizens who support jihad, such as removing the citizenship of natural-born citizens who support jihad. Indeed, with the First Amendment in place, it would probably also be unconstitutional for political leaders to practice the James T. policy of “exposing [Islam’s] incompatibility with our national life.” For a public official to single out a religion as incompatible with our society would violate the First Amendment in numerous ways.

My conclusion: so long as Islam receives First Amendment protections, sufficient defense of our society against Islam to prevent it from continuing to spread its power among us will not be possible. Therefore, since I do not accept that it is fated that America should be Islamized, I believe that it is possible that Islam’s First Amendment protections can be removed, through a law or constitutional amendment stating that Islam is both a religion AND a tyrannical political movement, and that as such Islam shall not be considered a religion under the First Amendment.

However, having said that, I can see one other possibility, short of my radical solution, that could and should be pursued, though I think the prospects of success are doubtful. If we could separate sharia from Islam and say that sharia is incompatible with the laws, Constitution, and civilization of the United States, without outlawing Islam itself, in the same way that the federal government and federal courts in the 19th century declared that Mormon polygamy was incompatible with our laws and society and barred it on that basis, without outlawing Mormonism itself, then perhaps that would give us suffieient ability to arrest and reverse the growth of Islam among us.

James T. replies:

Downgrading Islam from a religion to a mere tyrannical political ideology would make it easier to regulate, but it would still be entitled to at least the same political protections we extend to other nasties, like Holocaust denial, Neo-Nazism and Communism. That is, our tradition is allowing American citizens to espouse and advocate for evil and obnoxious ideas. (If we can’t outlaw the American Communist Party, then how on earth could we outlaw Islam even if you succeeded in re-naming it the Worldwide Sharia and Jihad Party?)

I think your Mormonism tack is more in keeping with our traditions and therefore more likely to succeed—for instance, to come back to immigration documents, which show us what is currently possible, they already ask if immigrants intend to practice polygamy in the US, so it wouldn’t be too hard, I suppose, to add questions about intent to practice jihad.

In any case, I’m pretty pessimistic. A global human exodus to outer space is probably less imaginative than any of the proposals any of us have mentioned here.

LA replies:

Of course this would be a tremendous challenge, to depart from our historical ways of dealing with dissident and minority groups and parties. The starting point for all of us is recognizing the tremendous apparent difficulty of what needs to happen. But the starting point must not be the end point. If our survival requires that we rethink certain established attitudes, they we can and must do it. Your notion of an outer space exodus being easier to pull off than a change in the First Amendment is funny, but also betrays a helplessness which is not true to reality. So I reject your pessimism. Once you make pessimism your position, you have accepted the death of our society and you will not strive to prevent it or even think of ways to prevent it. To give up, when we haven’t even attempted yet to fight, is wrong.

Jonathan W. writes:

I am going to have to disagree with James T.’s statement, “It would do extreme violence to our traditions to outlaw a religion, even one like Islam that many of us perceive to be dangerous.” He is making a fundamental mistake you write about frequently, that as a society we assume that our historical traditions that existed within a Judeo-Christian framework can be extended to every culture and belief system. At the time that the Bill of Rights was ratified, America consisted of mostly Protestant Christians, with a very small number of Catholics and Jews. Many of the colonists had escaped religious persecution in Britain, but they were still all mainly Protestants. The founders likely had this conceptual vision of America in mind when drafting the 1st Amendment. Just as the authors of the 14th Amendment never envisioned millions of mestizo women illegally entering the United States and giving birth to hundreds of thousands of babies each year, the authors of the 1st Amendment likely never envisioned that the free exercise of religion clause would be used to protect elements of religions like Islam and Hindusim that are completely incompatible with our civilization. In other words, they thought they were preventing minor squabbling between Protestant sects from becoming the basis for federal laws, not rendering us unable to defend Western society from alien elements from all over the world.

April 24

James T. writes:

Making some religious or political writings illegal is not departing from our historical traditions; it is assaulting them. Communism was a much more serious threat than Islam is now, and yet, we defeated it without smashing up the offices of Verso Press or arresting too many Marxist professors. Again, I agree with you that importing millions of unassimilable Muslims into this country is suicidal, but I don’t see why, in principle, Islam can’t be defeated the same way Communism, Nazism or other nasty ideologies were—that is, through a combination of military strength, propaganda (in the neutral sense) and immigration control. [LA replies: You have not picked up on my previous arguments in which I already replied to this point.] Look at it from a practical standpoint: if under the shadow of total nuclear annihilation Americans weren’t willing to ban an atheist and explicitly political upstart ideology, then I don’t see how they could ever be convinced to do so to an ancient monotheistic religion, when the threat to national security, though real, is much, much weaker. I just don’t see it. [LA replies: That’s not a good comparison. How many Communists were there in the U.S. in, say, 1957? Maybe 30,000 at most, probably much less. I remember reading that in the early 1960s, there were only a few thousand, and half of them were FBI agents. By contrast, we have in the range of three million Muslims in America, and the numbers will continue to grow through natural increase even if immigration is stopped. Your repeated comparisons of Islam to Communism are inappropriate. We need to see Islam in its own terms, not understand it by comparing it to things we happen to be more familiar with but that are essentially unlike it.]

Jonathan W.’s right: I don’t believe our country is a “proposition nation,” and that it can admit any number of alien elements without falling apart. Nonetheless, it’s absurd to think our Founders wouldn’t have given First Amendment protection to Muslims. Naturally, it’s hard to find good information on early Americans’ views of Islam, but what we do have, like the 1796 treaty with the Barbary states, suggests a rather benevolent attitude towards it:

“As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion,-as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquillity of Musselmen,-and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.” [emphasis mine] [LA replies: That treaty with the Barbary states was made to settle a war, and the bit about not being founded on the Christian religion (which is literally true in reference to our national government, though not true of America as a society), was done to appease the Barbary states. It was not written in the context of Muslims living in America. This was something that had never been thought of. I think if any Muslims came to America the problem would have been solved by making them leave, not by changing the First Amendment.]

One side note, Jonathan W.: why did you slip Hinduism in there? What about it suggests it is “completely incompatible with our civilization”? Hindus make up a tiny fraction of our population—about the same as Jews—and, like Jews, are among the wealthiest, best educated, and most law-abiding folks we have here.

LA replies:

“Making some religious or political writings illegal is not departing from our historical traditions; it is assaulting them.”

The whole point of a constitutional amendment is that it is NOT assaulting our traditions, because it is ONLY affecting Islam. The amendment is purely Islam specific, with no potential to leak into other areas. And it is Islam specific because Islam is sui generis and a unique threat and must be treated in a unique manner. It is by taking away rights from Islam in this country that we preserve all other rights.

Your repeated comparisons of Islam to Communism are not apt, as I pointed out above. Islam must be understood on its own terms, not compared to other things from which it is fundamentally different.

Ironically, you are more hung up on some imaginary threat to our traditions than you are alarmed by a real threat to our traditions and to our very existence.

In any case, the determined resistance that you are showing to the more moderate of my two possible constitutional amendments, declaring Islam not a religion for the purposes of the First Amendment, because you oppose designating Islam as a political movement rather than a religion, makes me think that my more radical proposed amendment, which would ban the practice of Islam in the United States altogether, will ultimately prove to the be only way to go.

You may think my ideas are too extreme for America. But if we allow Islam to continue to gain in numbers and power, we will find ourselves in a far more extreme situation, Do you want the Islam problem settled lawfully and non-violently, as I propose, or do you want to let the situation develop to the point of civil war, when any lawful and non-violent resolution will be impossible? As an attendee at my talk last weekend said to me afterward, my position is the moderate position.

I think we’ve gone back and forth enough on this.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at April 23, 2009 11:52 AM | Send

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