Beinart’s Naivete about the Religious Right

“Until a month or so ago,” Peter Beinart writes this morning on The Daily Beast, “I genuinely believed that the American right had become a religiously ecumenical place.”

He’s referring, of course, to the “Ground Zero mosque controversy,” as it’s come to be called (when it should be really called the right’s ginned-up flame war that reveals its true views on the Constitution).

Before the current “controversy,” Beinart believed that “right-wing Baptists loved right-wing Catholics and they both loved right-wing Orthodox Jews. All you had to do to join the big tent was denounce feminists, Hollywood, and gays.”

Was Beinart awake for, oh, I don’t know, anti-Islamism in the military, House Republicans’ campaign against the Council on American Islamic Relations, or the “documentaries” produced by the Clarion Fund, or the “ex-terrorists“-turned-Christians dispatched to speak on the evils of Islam and the sole soul-saving power of Christ, or Liberty University’s showcasing of it’s own ex-Muslim dean, or the religious right’s discontent with John McCain’s rejection of Rod Parsley’s endorsement, or Franklin Graham, or Sarah Palin, or any of the local Christian combat against Islam, or, obviously, the whole notion of the “Christian nation?” And did he notice that little issue of the right demonizing Barack Obama (both as a candidate and as president) by claiming that he was a secret Muslim?

The religious right talks a good game on religious freedom, but its spokespeople mean something quite different than all the voices being raised now in defense of building the center near the ground zero site. For the religious right, religious freedom is about “defending” Christians against anti-Christian bigotry. That sort of supposed “discrimination” includes letting gay people get married, not allowing prayer in public settings, and the like. In other words, the religious right not getting its way.

The right is so dedicated to this narrative that it has succeeded in reframing Supreme Court jurisprudence to focus less on Establishment Clause questions (examining whether an action by a government actor amounts to a state endorsement of a particular religion) and more on “viewpoint discrimination” (examining whether an action by a government actor amounts to “discrimination” against a Christian “viewpoint.”) The endgame is dismantling the separation of church and state—something the right believes is a fiction because it believes we should be governed as a “Christian nation.” Where would one expect Islam to end up in that endgame?

Beinart says he pines for the days of George W. Bush and Karen Hughes’ public diplomacy, demonstrating just how easily they pulled the wool over his eyes. The right doesn’t understand religious freedom in the same way other Americans do, and it has been quite forthright about its views. Its framing is Christian-centric, and always has been. That’s not ecumenicalism, and never has been. It’s kind of hard not to notice it.

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