Muslim Americans watched with skepticism this week as Republican senators railed against religious bigotry during confirmation hearings for Judge Amy Coney Barrett, President Donald Trump’s latest nominee to the Supreme Court. GOP lawmakers insisted that the religious views of Barrett, who is Roman Catholic, should be off-limits and that any mention of them veered into bigotry.
Muslims just wish the same standard would be applied to them.
“If a Muslim woman was nominated to SCOTUS you would see Republicans lose their mind about her religious background,” Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) tweeted Monday. “‘Sharia law’ would be trending right now. Miss me with the pearl-clutching and all this righteous talk about religious freedom.”
Though Democrats have largely steered clear of discussing Barrett’s religious beliefs, Republicans repeatedly brought up the issue anyway to suggest their colleagues across the aisle were bigots.
“This pattern and practice of religious bigotry — because that’s what it is, when you tell somebody they are too Catholic to be on the bench, when you say they will be a Catholic judge, not an American judge — that is bigotry,” said Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.). “The practice of bigotry from members of this committee must stop, and I would expect that it be renounced.”
But, as Omar noted, few Republicans have delivered such forceful speeches against religious bigotry when it was used to target Muslims. Trump has continuously criticized the two Muslims women in Congress, including Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.). Conservatives have questioned Muslim politicians’ loyalty to the U.S., asked if their beliefs contradicted the Constitution and scrutinized their religious practices to suggest they’re un-American. And the GOP often participated or stood by and allowed it to happen.
“Every time the GOP complains about the religious tests, this is what they have subjected Muslims to in the United States since forever,” said Mona Eltahawy, a feminist and author.
Eltahawy said that Barrett, who is white and a mother of seven, as well as a member of a small, conservative faith group called the People of Praise, is easier for the GOP to defend because she represents what some see as the American default in a society that centers itself on white patriarchal Christian norms. If a Muslim were up for nomination, Eltahawy said, she suspects that members of the GOP would weaponize the Islamic faith against the nominee instead of defending religious liberties.
In 2017, when Barrett was nominated for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th District, senators from both parties discussed her faith and her rulings during the confirmation hearing. But Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) faced backlash for a tense exchange when she asked Barrett whether she would be able to separate her Catholic views from her legal analysis.
And though Democrats vowed they would approach Barrett’s faith cautiously this time ― with Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden emphasizing on Monday that her faith “should not be considered” ― members of the GOP criticized the recent conversations about her faith as an attack on religious liberties.
The tension over religious liberties ― and which religions deserve them ― is a longstanding one in the United States, said Asma T. Uddin, a religious liberty lawyer and author of ”When Islam Is Not a Religion: Inside America’s Fight for Religious Freedom.”
And when the rights of religious minorities in the U.S., such as Muslims, are championed, it can lead to those in power, in this case, white Christians, perceiving that their own race and religion are under attack, said Uddin, who is currently working on a book about Muslim-Christian relations in a post-Christian American. She added that this often results in the politicization of religious freedom, an issue that has only increased during the Trump administration.
“This hostility has resulted on many occasions into a mantra among some conservatives that Islam is not a religion or Muslims are not deserving of religious freedom,” Uddin said. “This is not as fringe as you think it is. This is pretty mainstream.”
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