The Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World, Except for Syria
(image by Modified by the author from a Creative Commons photo by Celso Flores) License DMCA
Once again, leaders of the Republican party have come out against core American values. By coming out against the resettlement of Syrian refugees in their states, Republican governors across the country are also opposing the principles of openness and inclusion on which the nation was founded. Adding insult to injury, Republican candidates Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush are demanding that only "Christian Syrians" be allowed entry.
Injury, that is, not only to the Syrian refugees who need America's help, but to enduring American values, and insult to anyone who believes in them. Some of these values are laid out in a bronze plaque on an island in New York Harbor:
"Give me your tired, your
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
Republicans, apparently, would rather close the golden door, put out the lamp, and send the "huddled masses," the homeless, and the "tempest-tossed," away to fend for themselves.
Well, except for the Christian ones, right? Here, yet another hallowed principle is undermined: no less than the very first line from the Bill of Rights: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."
American conservatives in the Republican party and elsewhere have been trying to do away with this particular American value for some time. Perhaps they need to be reminded just why this line is so important, and why it was placed in such a crucial position by the founders of the American republic.
Why did the Founding Fathers think the separation of Church and State was so important? Because their experience under British rule had shown the danger of Church-State unification. Britain, at that time, recognized only the legitimacy of the Church of England; all other religious persuasions--Catholic, Presbyterian, Baptist, Quaker, Methodist, you name it--were treated as second class citizens. At worst, they were seen as likely enemies of the state--terrorists, to be quarantined or expelled.
As it happens, their fears were occasionally correct. Guy Fawkes and his co-conspirators in the Gunpowder Plot were, in point of fact, Catholic terrorists, seeking to blow up Parliament and assassinate the King. Does this justify the oppression of all the other "non-conformists," over more than two centuries? Cruz, Bush, and the rest of the Republican leadership would seem to agree that it does. The Founding Fathers thought otherwise, and took action to prevent such oppression. Or so they hoped.
The US has failed to uphold these values before. The exclusion of the Chinese, the internment of the Japanese, and hostility toward the Irish, Italians, and any number of other ethnic groups bear witness to our past failures to live up to our own promise. Even today, clownish demagogues such as Donald Trump still clamor to wall off the entire southern border of the US. Such idiots we will always have with us.
But for the leadership of a major political party, this far into the Twenty-first century, to give voice to such intolerance, and to so blatantly disregard the founding values of this nation, is not only shocking: it's an embarassment and a betrayal.