Some people believe that outrage in the name of religion—or religious hatred—only happens “there.” Not quite. But along with the bad news, there’s also good news.
In Cologne, Germany, a regional court banned circumcision for children stating that the procedure does bodily harm without consent. German Jews and Muslims—along with co-religionists worldwide—protested vociferously. For Jews, the Torah (Genesis 17:12) commands circumcision on the eighth day of life. The Qu’ran does not mention circumcision for Muslims, but circumcision remains a long-standing tradition carried out at different ages—often as young as seven days—depending on geographic, religious and cultural factors.
In Murfreesboro, Tennessee—thirty miles from Nashville—American Muslims sued to be able to open a new Mosque in Murfreesboro, Tennessee in time for the holy month of Ramadan, which began last night. In September 2010, four residents of Rutherford County filed suit to block the mosque citing a “risk of terrorism generated by proselytizing for Islam and inciting the practices of Sharia law.” They insisted that the Islamic center not be approved until it demonstrated it was not interested in “the overthrow of the American system of government, laws and freedoms guaranteed by our Constitution.”
Ignorance begets hatred. Religious majorities often know little or nothing about the minorities among them. And I’m not referring only to people in the “hinterlands.” I’ve found this to be true here in San Francisco. Anti-Semites around the world still condemn Jews as threats to the national order. And let’s not be naïve. Islam has generated a significant number of zealots who seek to impose their own religious views and practices. Muslims, as well as non-Muslims, have suffered. But restricting legitimate religious practices offers no answer.
So, all this being stated, let’s give credit where it’s due. The German federal government opposes the circumcision ban. Prime Minister Angela Merkel stated, “I do not want Germany to be the only country in the world where Jews cannot practice their rituals. Otherwise we will become a laughing stock.” Ms. Merkel might have stated, “I do not want Germany to be morally offensive to the world,” but she made her point. Yesterday, the lower house of parliament passed a resolution protecting circumcision for religious reasons.
In the U.S. this week, the Justice Department and the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro filed lawsuits. On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Todd J. Campbell ruled that a final building inspection must be conducted to enable the mosque to open.
We frequently hear religious bodies in the U.S.—usually conservative—decry Washington’s restrictions on religious freedom. Concerns should be addressed. For example, discussions regarding providing insurance for abortions to employees at religious institutions opposed to abortion merit consideration. The issues are complex. But I would state that our government favors religious freedom—not for any particular group but for all. And it manages to act quite admirably to uphold religious thought and action provided believers do not impose their views on others.
That’s my take on the matter. Of course, when you’re part of a religious minority, you tend to view our Constitution as a document that does more than provide religious freedom on a selective basis.
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