Speaking Truth to Power

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. – from the United States Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1791.

There’s not much of a punchline to this comic, because I don’t find this remotely funny.

I feel like I shouldn’t have to write this post. It should be common sense that singling out a group of people for increased surveillance, extra screening on entry to the country, or to ban them from coming in altogether based on their religion, is discrimination. Further, to discriminate and vilify a group of people for political gain is both morally wrong, and possessed of a dangerous historical precedent. Yet here we are, again, just as the world was almost a century ago. We have newly elected someone to the office of the president who made promises in his campaign to ban Muslim immigration to the U.S., and, more worryingly, appears to be seriously considering both a registry for Muslims and increased surveillance of mosques and Muslim community centers by law enforcement.

Disturbing as these positions are, it’s tempting to comfort myself by saying, “it’s only campaign rhetoric and political theater, the people we’ve elected to power don’t really mean it when they say they’ll institute surveillance of American Muslim places of worship,” but it would be wrong to find comfort in that. In her article, Autocracy: Rules for Survival, Masha Gessen writes that the first rule is “believe the autocrat.” The person who won the blessing of the electoral college to assume mantle of the most powerful office in the world ran on becoming our country’s first autocrat. We must take him at his word.  We have to assume the person who will soon take the office of president means to make good on even the most toxic of his campaign promises.

The excerpt from the U.S. Bill of Rights that starts this post resonates with the oath doctors take, “first, do no harm.” These are the first words of the first amendment to the Constitution of the United Stats that established the basic freedoms that are the foundation of our society. The founders believed so strongly in the freedom of religion as a fundamental right, that it was enshrined in our governing documents ahead of speech, the freedom to assemble, the right to bear arms, and protection from search and seizure without probable cause. It is our first right, and as such is, if you’ll pardon me, sacred. We must actively speak against, and not meekly accept any policy that would use fear to undermine this right for the purpose of demonizing an entire group of people.