July 27th, 2010
01:19 PM ET

My Take: Tennessee, Islam, and Our Disposable Constitution

Editor's Note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.

By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN

How’s this for a new argument against your local Islamic community center?

According to Ron Ramsey, Tennessee’s Lieutenant Governor and a candidate for the Republican gubernatorial primary, Islam, the world’s second largest religion, may not be a religion after all.

As in New York, a proposal for a local Islamic center has become a state-wide campaign issue in recent weeks in Tennessee, where certain Republican candidates in various primaries are trying to outdo each other for the fear vote by denouncing a recently approved expansion of an existing Islamic center in Murfreesboro.

In a June statement on her web site decrying what she referred to as an “Islamic training center,” Lou Ann Zelenik, a Republican candidate for U.S. Congress in Tennessee and a Tea Party favorite, argued that the center “is not part of a religious movement; it is a political movement.”

Now Lt. Gov. Ramsey has taken that logic one step deeper into the muck and mire, arguing that Islam may only be masquerading as a religion.

In a video of a recent stump speech posted by the Nashville Scene, Ramsey responds to a question about the “threat that’s invading our country from the Muslims.” Though he is careful to give a nod to the First Amendment (and, for good measure, the Second and Tenth), he says that our Constitution's free exercise guarantees may not apply to Islam because it may be a “cult” rather than a "faith."

“I’m all about freedom of religion,” Ramsey explains.  “But you cross the line when they try to start bringing sharia law here to the state of Tennessee.”

But who is really crossing the line here?

Apparently, Ramsey, who began his pitch with a paean to “this free country,” believes that the free market does not apply to religion, or at least not to religions that do not meet with the approval of elected officials like himself. Which leads me to wonder, first, whether Christianity really is so weak in Tennessee that it needs the coercive power of the government to maintain itself, and, second, whether the commitment to limited government of Tennessee’s Republicans is so thin that it does not require the state to stay out of our individual decisions concerning where (and whether) to pray, and to whom.

The sign marking the site of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro has been vandalized at least twice in the last six months. But as this latest round of faith-baiting moves to new venues and descends to new lows, we are vandalizing our Constitution too.  I hope voters in Tennessee are quick to repair the damage, both to the sign and to the Constitution.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.

- CNN Belief Blog contributor

Filed under: Islam • Mosque • Politics • Tennessee

soundoff (145 Responses)
  1. Alejandra

    While the redesign of the site is cute, there hhisegt responsibility is to the information they broadcast to the largest audience. That is still TV. And I must say that CNN is increasingly incomplete and unsatisfactory on their coverage of the news. I am actually a big fan of the content available online for there Latino in America series. However what they broadcasted for the largest audiences was terribly incomplete and unoriginal. Cute site, but substance is king. so far I will judge them as a bit of smoke and mirrors.

    April 4, 2012 at 12:11 am |
  2. antique furniture restoration

    You could definitely see your skills within the work you write. The world hopes for more passionate writers such as you who are not afraid to mention how they believe. Always follow your heart.

    June 19, 2011 at 3:29 am |
  3. b_ron

    I agree with you! It wasn't founded on Christian Religion, but it sure was heavily influenced by it! Our laws are heavily influenced by those morals.....of course it was in the past, now it seems to be straying away from them morals. The laws and Constitution were so that one can choose for himself what to believe and how to live.

    To say one is a "Christian", I'm still trying to figure who and what a "Christian" is. That is what people were calling followers and believers in Jesus Christ. To say devout, I not sure anyone(Christian by name) is devout. We are all pretty horrible people! We all are bad! We must strive to do what is good and right! You can find any so called Christian, and find all kinds of wrongs. Theres not one rightous person that does what is right, and doesn't sin! One is only Christian by name, but we'll all find out in the end! There will be many who call on the Lord Jesus, but He'll tell them "I never knew you!".

    August 2, 2010 at 12:58 am |
  4. InfoWarrior

    b_ron, yes the founders were christians, but there was no religious intent by the founders. Article 11 of the Treaty of Tripoli states this:
    Art. 11. As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion,—as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen,—and as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.

    There is also doubt about whether or not the founders were even all that devout or just Christian in name.

    August 1, 2010 at 5:36 pm |
  5. b_ron


    I'm working on a go-cart powered by a lawnmower engine. My fuel is gonna come from water! From a electrolisis cell, I will split water and get HHO gas and feed it directly to the throttle body of the lawnmower engine. There will be a car battery and an altenator all rigged up. The altenator will be spun by the engine which will provide the electrical energy to keep the battery charged and split water "ON DEMAND!" To start, prime the fuel cell soo gas starts to flow, then just pull the cord and start the engine! Thats a safe way to use hydrogen as a fuel! Everything is already compressed in the form of water!!!!! But guess why these kinds of things won't happen for our nation and its people........THE MONEY!!! Cars can be converted in the same way!!!!! We could be an independent nation, but the powers-at-be don't want them kinds of things!

    The People of the United States need to rise up! Stop thinking just about yourselves. Look whats going on!!!!!!!!!! OPEN YOU EYES, HOW CAN WE JUST LET THIS ALL GO ON? IF WE DO NOTHING, WE WILL PAY FOR IT!

    read the damn "Declaration of Independence"! Read the damn "Constitution"!

    August 1, 2010 at 6:33 am |
  6. b_ron

    JohnQuest, and all in rebellion,

    Read our "Declaration of Independence"!!!!!!!!!!

    You literally have to close your eyes, ears, and mind to believe our nation wasn't founded by Believers in Jesus Christ! This is why things are going the way it is in our nation!

    Evolution?........your example of evolution is poor, I'm sorry to say it like that, but you sound just like those that preached that fairytail stuff. You use the word "evolution" soo loosely! Please, give me one example of real evolution! Like tell me how we decended from fish or something like that! Simple cell? Is there such a thing? Is there any cell that is actually simple? From the facts, any life is very, very, very complex!!!!! Theres nothing simple about any cell! In your own words......can you explain what you mean......just like you asked me, and I responded out of my own heart and mind......not what someone has told me. In your own words please!

    mockers and slanders, please, you guys seem to have soo much knowledge and understanding, can you guys explain where we come from? Where does mankind come from, where does life come from? Where do the Jewish people decend from? What about the nation of Israel?

    And again....JohnQuest, have read what you posted? You ask some very silly questions. You say logic, logically if you have even considered what you asked, you'd realize that it says it all in Genisis! Your answers are there my friend! If you can read and comprehend, you'll see and possibly figure out how you can answer your own questions. You must seek for yourself. I understand the "Scientific Method", do you? Are the things you mentioned backed up by this method? Please elaborate! When is it possible for another animal to have a different type of animal? Please gives us this understanding you have! I suspect you acting like a parrot! You're just repeating what they keep on telling you.

    I'm done here! theres no sincereity here! Your minds have been given over! It seems as if I'm casting my pearls to the swine.


    August 1, 2010 at 6:06 am |
    • JohnQuest

      b_ron, don't go just yet we have just started, I admit I did give poor examples (far to simple for our discussion). I am not an Anthropologist any more that you are a Theologian, we both have to rely on the understanding and writing of others. The difference is that scientist over the past 200 years or so have been testing and retesting different scientific ideas (evolution being only one of them), the ideas that can stand up to rigorous testing and analysis from different people with different goals are kept and tested more. Religion does not allow for nor can stand up to that level of scrutiny, how do you test for God, you cannot get past the first part, let alone testing for the influence of a God (if you reverse the order, first test for test the influence then test for a God you will find your idea of a God in everything you test even before you test for the existence of a God). Even before we get to Genesis we have to first find out 1) what is God and 2) what does "existence" mean and 3) does God exist, we have not done any of these we just assumed that the other person knows what we mean by these terms, a dangerous assumption at best.

      August 2, 2010 at 10:46 am |
  7. Sherri

    You've heard the saying 'if you give an inch, they'll take a mile'. Well this is what will happen. Muslims have been very vocal and public about their plans to take over America and the world. I have heard them say it. Believe it. And if you don't you are very naive. Ask a Muslim about religious tolerance in their countries. It does not exist. They burn churches, kill Christians. Read The End of Faith by Sam Harris. Watch the movie The Third Jihad. Go to website citizenwarrior.com Wake up America. Mike C:thanks for your comments

    August 1, 2010 at 4:11 am |
  8. Mike C.

    Islam is a rule of law, more than a religion

    Sharia Law dominates Islam and the government whereever it is allowed to flourish. Just ask Iran. Just ask the Islamic leaders who are constructing the New York Islamic Center, who have said Sharia Law should be applied to the U.S. laws.

    You have to look no further than Lebanon, which used to be a majority Christian population. But Muslims migrated there, and now Lebanon is a majority Islamic nation, and Sharia Law has been applied to government ruling...

    July 31, 2010 at 7:00 pm |
  9. Reality

    The historical and theological issues/flaws/errors with/in the NT have been studied exhaustively for the last 200 years which included the studies, conclusions and writings of Nobel Prize winner, Albert Schweitzer. Some other names of NT exegetes for your "googling", "yahooing" and/or "binging" pleasure, Crossan, Borg, Funk, Vermes, Pagels, Meyer, Mack, Doherty, Ehrman, Eisenman, Fredriksen, Ludemann, Macoby, Meier, Sanders, Freke and Gandy, Horsley, Johnson, Wright, Strauss, Reimarus, Holtzmann, Bultmann, Kasemann, and Robinson.

    July 31, 2010 at 4:56 pm |
  10. Marjorie

    How convenient to say Islam is "not a religion" - thus taking it right out of the Bill of Rights and leaving people like Mr. Ramsay free to do anything they want to its adherents! At one time, Mormons were similarly treated, being viewed as a dangerous "cult." The Mormons had Utah to flee to. I suppose Mr. Ramsay and his pals want to drive American Muslims out of the country altogether.

    What a great way to transform perfectly ordinary Muslims (the Palestinian-American who runs your corner grocery, the Iranian-American at the local gas station) into the arms of the extremists.

    Obviously Mr. Ramsey would not agree with Thomas Jefferson, who wrote in his Autobiography that freedom of religion, as codified in the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom (of which Jefferson was a co-author) was

    " .... meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and the Mohammedan, the Hindoo and the Infidel of every denomination.’

    ("Mohammedan" being one of the 18th century terms for "Muslim.")

    July 31, 2010 at 4:47 pm |
  11. cnnpress

    I think the major problem in America is lack of education. People like Ramsey do not read anymore. For those, what I would suggest is to go back to school and educate and elucidate your selves. All religions revolve around the same “god”, so in order to coexist peacefully, please show some respect and appreciation for other people that are different than us. There is no difference between a Christian, Muslim, Jew, Mormon, or Atheist. Extremism and ignorance exist in all religions, Ramesy is just a pathetic example of “Christian” extremism and who is trying to score some political points. I live in Tennessee and I would like say that those Christian extremists minorities don’t reflect the great and open-minded people of this beautiful state.

    July 31, 2010 at 12:23 pm |
    • Reality

      And yet again:

      Recognizing the flaws in the foundations of Islam, Judaism and Christianity by the "bowers", "kneelers" and "pew peasants" will quickly converge these religions into some simple rules of life. No clerics, imams, rabbis and priests needed or desired. It will be called the great "Pink Slipping" of religion and its leaders.

      As per James Somerville, Philosophy professor emeritus from Xavier University, Cincinnati,

      "The faith of the vast majority of believers (and non-believers) depends upon where they were born and when."

      It is therefore beyond disturbing that such religious-based violence and hatred continues unabated due to radomness of birth. Maybe just maybe if this fact would be published on the first page of every newspaper every day, that we would finally realize the significant stupidity of it all.

      July 31, 2010 at 4:45 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.