August 18, 2010

Will Anti-Islam Sentiment Help or Hurt Church-State Separation?

Controversy over mosques has not been limited to the Cordoba Initiative's proposal to build an Islamic center in Manhattan. Writing about the growing anti-Islam sentiment in the United States, Laurie Goodstein (The New York Times) wrote:
These local skirmishes make clear that there is now widespread debate about whether the best way to uphold America’s democratic values is to allow Muslims the same religious freedom enjoyed by other Americans, or to pull away the welcome mat from a faith seen as a singular threat.
I cannot help but wonder how this might impact public attitudes toward separation of church and state. Will America's Christian majority finally gain some perspective as they realize what it is like to have another religion asking for the same freedoms they enjoy? Might the threat of Islam lead even Christian extremists to rethink their opposition to church-state separation? Will more Christians begin to understand that church-state separation actually protects their religion?

Perhaps attitudes will shift the other direction. Maybe the Christian right will become more blatant about discarding separation of church and state and calling for a Christian theocracy. Will the decide that religious freedom itself is a bad thing since it applies equally to Muslims?

What is the role of atheists in the debate over mosques? Well, that will be up to each individual atheist. As far as I'm concerned, it will be an opportunity to agree with Christians that Islam is in fact cause for concern. It will also be an opportunity to apply the same critical analysis to Christianity. Yes, Islam is a problem...and so is Christianity. Maybe there should be fewer mosques, and maybe there should be fewer Christian churches.