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. Phillyresident

    Sahih Muslim #3506:

    Jabir b. 'Abdullah reported: Abu Bakr came and sought permission to see Allah's Messenger. He found people sitting at his door and none amongst them had been granted permission, but it was granted to Abu Bakr and he went in. Then came 'Umar and he sought permission and it was granted to him, and he found Allah's Apostle sitting sad and silent with his wives around him. He (Hadrat 'Umar) said: I would say something which would make the Holy Prophet laugh, so he said: Messenger of Allah, I wish you had seen (the treatment meted out to) the daughter of Kharija when she asked me some money, and I got up and slapped her on her neck. Allah's Messenger laughed and said: They are around me as you see, asking for extra money. Abu Bakr then got up went to 'Aisha and slapped her on the neck, and 'Umar stood up before Hafsa and slapped her saying: You ask Allah's Messenger which he does not possess. They said: By Allah, we do not ask Allah's Messenger for anything he does not possess….

    July 27, 2010 at 3:00 pm |
  2. Phillyresident

    Prothero seems like a good man who must invent a fairly tale to make his point. He's not a scholar, though. He has not read the primary texts of Islam, nor has our Muslim apologist brother, who is must be one of the spin doctors who feel it is alright to deceive nonbelievers to advance the spread of Islam.

    July 27, 2010 at 2:58 pm |
  3. Phillyresident

    There are LOTS more sayings of Muhammad and Hadith or scholarly treatises by his followers, literally dozens, just on the topic of permissible wife beating alone. Aisha herself (Muhammad's youngest wife) stated that pagan wives are less bruised and battered than faithful believing Muslim women. Now, shall we have more Islamic or liberal spin of the holy Islamic word? You see how interesting this debate becomes when you have non Muslims read through the Koran for themselves? I strongly suggest Prothero give it a whack. Don't forget the Hadith, either. They are the source of this "modern" or "moderate" Islam he is desperately seeking, who are good people, who have invented a fairy tale.

    July 27, 2010 at 2:56 pm |
  4. (B)iraq Hussein Osama

    LAST SERMON 4 of 7
    .....O People, it is true that you have certain rights over your women, but they also have rights over you. Remember that you have taken them as your wives only under God's trust and with His permission. If they abide by your right then to them belongs the right to be fed and clothed in kindness. Treat your women well and be kind to them, for they are your partners and committed helpers. It is your right and they do not make friends with anyone of whom you do not approve....

    July 27, 2010 at 2:55 pm |
  5. Phillyresident

    Narrated Aisha: "Abu Bakr came to towards me and struck me violently with his fist and said, 'You have detained the people because of your necklace.' But I remained motionless as if I was dead lest I should awake Allah's Apostle although that hit was very painful."

    July 27, 2010 at 2:48 pm |
  6. Phillyresident

    Umar reported the prophet as saying: "A man will not be asked as to why he beat his wife".

    July 27, 2010 at 2:45 pm |
  7. Phillyresident

    Quran 4:34: Men are the maintainers of women because Allah has made some of them to excel others and because they spend out of their property; the good women are therefore obedient, guarding the unseen as Allah has guarded; and (as to) those on whose part you fear desertion, admonish them, and leave them alone in their sleeping places and beat them; then if they obey you, do not seek a way against them; surely Allah is High, Great.

    July 27, 2010 at 2:38 pm |
    • concernedcitizen

      I'm glad to see Phillyresident has some common sense and a good concept of reality here. This person is very well informed and I hope his/her information can help others see the impending legal threat we are facing. We have all religions practicing openly and freely here in America today, but with a religion that dictates a legal system, one wonders how long this freedom will continue. Moderate and liberal Muslims do hide in the shadows for fear of retaliation from more restrictive forms of Islam. I find it quite resaonable Americans want to protect their right to religious liberty. If Muslims promote a peaceful and loving religion, than let it be amidst other people chosing to worship as they please, instead of a government mandated set of rules and regulations!

      November 21, 2010 at 2:32 pm |
  8. Phillyresident

    "And if any believe not in Allah and His Messenger, We have prepared, for those who reject Allah, a Blazing Fire!" -Quran 48:13

    July 27, 2010 at 2:38 pm |
  9. Phillyresident

    We have to be very careful. Reputable, published, reliable scholars, politicians, and well meaning people want to believe in a kind of liberal Islam which they call moderate, that does not freely exist unmolested in the world of Islam today. It just doesn't. You won't find its adherents practicing freely or openly. The Shia moderate is attacked and killed by the Sunni fundamentalist in Iraq. The Sufi is an endangered species, not daring to sing or dance, in Afghanistan. The reason is that Islam has grown more literal in a campaign to bring it to a more "pure" form by Salafists or Wahabbists. This aligns nicely with the traditional practices and beliefs in many Islamic nations, allowing for easy political unity and control. The West is desperately defending a "religion" that its own adherents do not call as such. It is much, much more. It trumps all other considerations. The pain of a wife, the injury of a daughter, the life of your adult female relative, the freedoms and prosperity in the West are all as nothing. This is "modern" Islam.

    July 27, 2010 at 2:34 pm |
  10. (B)iraq Hussein Osama

    There is something deeply deeply wrong here when the US President can simply get up and go invade a foreign nation at the detriment to his own people and nation. He can lie openly to the public, not be held accountable for that, and then override the advice and wishes of the UN and proceed to attack and waste billions and billions of dollars of borrowed funds that the future generations of Americans will have to pay for instead. The irony is that Americans this is all hunky dory and Muslims building mosques in your neighborhood is "more dangerous" to their future!

    July 27, 2010 at 2:33 pm |
    • Reality

      9/11, the first Muslim invasion of the USA by mosque-developed, koranic/gabriel myth -driven horror!!!!!!!!!! Never again!!!!

      July 27, 2010 at 4:07 pm |
    • USN LT retired

      are you forgetting the thousands of inocent people slautered in the 911 masacre! These radicals are trying to speed things up , because they think they can then rule the world! Christ is the King. No supposed education of mankind will ever change this Fact. And God will be verified when his Kingdom comes! Hope to see you there!

      July 27, 2010 at 4:11 pm |
    • Leo

      Bush was the one who started these wars, numbnuts. I know, I was serving in the Army when this all started in 2001.

      July 30, 2010 at 11:44 am |
  11. SR

    A wife who is Unwilling to reform Her Unislamic ways?

    Would you care to elaborate?

    July 27, 2010 at 2:26 pm |
  12. (B)iraq Hussein Osama

    honor killing of a daughter is not a part of the islamic religion. a father would be considered a criminal in Sharia for performing such a deed. Nor can a husband "freely beat his wife", the permission to raise one's hand against one's wife is only in the case of a "deviant wife" that is unwilling to reform her unislamic ways.

    July 27, 2010 at 2:23 pm |
    • John Moran

      You are defending wife beating, with whatever excuses or semantics, and that's pathetic. To be clear, I'm not arguing for another religious view, instead. I'm against the expansions talked about, not because I'm Christian (or anything else), but just because I think it stands for ignorance. A center for scientific study would be more helpful to all, for example. How about a center for solving world hunger? Not these dumb, primitive religious beliefs.

      July 28, 2010 at 1:16 am |
    • (B)iraq Hussein Osama

      i am not defending beating a wife. i am defending human nature, which tells us, via a journey thru human history, that women have always been second to men, because nature puts them at a disadvantage by burdening them with birth and nurturing of helpless human infants. Male guardianship is the way women have attained equal status in society from time immemorial. This guardianship (or protection) is why men are a level above women in authority. "wife beating" is a natural outcome of this relationship. Islam recognizes that and limits the idea of wife beating as something to be avoided as much as possible. You all pretend wife beating is "abnormal" and force women into the protection of large inhuman state apparatuses. A woman is always emotionally and spiritually better off under the protection of a more close and personal man than a state apparatus.

      July 28, 2010 at 10:07 pm |
    • Leo

      BHO, you are a sick, sick person. You, with your disgusting placement of women in a "second-class status." You are ignorant in a way that makes me lose hope for the human race. It's proof that all you fundamental religionists are misogynistic, bigoted haters without any understanding of how the world really works.

      July 30, 2010 at 11:27 am |
  13. Phillyresident

    It is not Ramsey who is disposing of the Constitution, in other words. It is a religio-political movement that disposes of the Constitution. Islam opposes the constitutional form of government when read literally, and vast numbers of Muslims the world over do exactly that. Is that a religion when it performs such a denial? Why does a father perform an honor killing of his daughter in a country like Great Britain, where there is a constitutional government? Is he a criminal? In his mind he is simply a Muslim, whose law is sharia, who is given complete dominion over the family, including the ability to freely beat his wife should he see fit, and to maintain honor in the family as assigned to him by the Koran.

    July 27, 2010 at 2:16 pm |
  14. Phillyresident

    Sharia law is not secular. The legal punishments of stoning for what are considered minor or civil matters in the West are not simply cultural. These are edicts in Islam, the religion. Female genital mutilation is considered widely to be Islamic and therefore nonnegotiable, because it obeys the edict of ensuring female modesty. This is not because of another form of medicine or science, but is Islamic. What would be considered the province solely of law, medicine, or science in the West is in fact part of Islam in Islam, because all things are part of Islam. It is true and accurate that Islam encompasses more than just what the West refers to as the practice of religion. Islam is called by its adherents more than just a religion in the Western sense. This is where those who support or even carry out acts of violence have their justification - their world view, their political thought, their whole mind, is devoted to an Islam that when read literally justifies lying to nonbelievers to trick them, and killing them if they won't convert as the Muslim deems necessary. This is the justification given by countless terrorists, and even homegrown killers who are Muslim converts. While this doesn't represent all Muslims, of course, they do form a troubling critical mass that stands in direct opposition to the values of freedom of religion.

    July 27, 2010 at 2:10 pm |
    • ohioo

      actually female genital mutilation is NOT an Islamic practice. It is practiced in rural villages and people use Islam as a scape-goat for it.
      Maybe you should learn about actual Islam instead of just reading off of the textbooks that anti-Islam people author.

      November 21, 2010 at 9:43 am |
  15. Jeff

    Among fundamentalist protestants in Tennessee, the view that other religions and even denominations are cults is common. I know, because I grew up there and was raised in a church that espoused that doctrine. My mother still thinks the Catholic Church is a cult. You don't want to know what she thinks about Mormons.

    That is not to excuse the remarks, but simply to supply some context for them. Fundamentalist evangelical protestants so thoroughly dominate religion and culture there that I doubt they seem shocking or irrational or intolerant at all. And I'm not implying that Tennesseans are ignorant hillbillies. They are simply as intolerant as fundamentalists of any religion or ideology.

    July 27, 2010 at 2:09 pm |
    • Andie

      I can attest to this. When I lived in Tennessee my Catholicism was viewed at best as odd and at worst as cult-like. This buffoon is just a product of his environment. I consider Islam as much a religion as my own faith and America was founded on the free practice of religion. People need to learn to deal with that.

      July 27, 2010 at 10:01 pm |
  16. (B)iraq Hussein Osama

    The irony of course is that at the height of their empire, circa 800 -1300, the Muslims could not "invade" Western Europe, Russia or China. But now, at the bottom rung of the civilizational ladder, all of a sudden Muslims are going to invade United States of America!!

    July 27, 2010 at 2:08 pm |
    • Reality

      9/11, the first Muslim invasion of the USA by koranic/gabriel myth -driven horror!!!!!!!!!! Never again!!!

      July 27, 2010 at 3:59 pm |
  17. SR


    Thank you for explaining to Stephen that his bleeding heart beats, not for a religion but for a Supremacist ideology.

    Dear Stephen: i agree that freedom of religion is paramount and that we should allow anyone to worship anyone they want.

    However, i don't agree with you when you castigate Ramsey. Where is the freedom of speech that you and he hold dear?

    Remember, this is a civilized debate that goes to the heart of islam. Does islam and its adherents want to live and let others's live or do they want to subjugate entire nations and their peoples' to what they believe in? Or else...

    July 27, 2010 at 2:07 pm |
    • Nonimus

      "However, i don't agree with you when you castigate Ramsey. Where is the freedom of speech that you and he hold dear?"

      I don't recall any mention of restricting Ramsey's freedom of speech, just a discussion of why he thinks Ramsey is wrong.

      July 27, 2010 at 5:11 pm |
  18. (B)iraq Hussein Osama

    The Holy Quran: Verse 2:62
    Believers, Jews, Christians and Sabaeans – whoever believes in God and the Last Day and does what is right – shall be rewarded by their Lord; they have nothing to fear or regret.

    July 27, 2010 at 2:04 pm |
    • John Moran

      Anyone who announces that they will have 'nothing to regret', before the 'end' does arrive – is truly begging to have many regrets. And, there is plenty that should be regretted in all religious histories – yours being a major player in the world's abuses and violence. You hide behind an ancient text, and large numbers of people, just the way right-wing republicans do – you are the same, admit it or not.

      July 28, 2010 at 1:09 am |
    • (B)iraq Hussein Osama

      well John. you see, "beheading" someone by bombing them from the sky is both more humane and more sanitary, is what Reality is trying to point out here!! Plus you can behead a lot more per "button push", so more efficient too.

      July 28, 2010 at 4:18 pm |
    • What about the other verses

      I dont think you really made your point. I tell you now he is not my GOD. The God fo the Muslims does not beget or is begotten. The Muslim God states that Mohamad is his prophet and is the only last true prophet.

      My Lord and Savior is Christ. it is he who I will turn to in the Last Days, in that Judgement Day.

      How bout these verses

      2:120: “Never will the Jews nor the Christians be pleased with you till you follow their religion. Say: "Verily, Islâmic Guidance is the only Guidance. And if you were to follow their desires after what you have received of Knowledge, then you would have against Allâh neither any protector nor helper.”

      3:85: “And whoever seeks a religion other than Islâm, it will never be accepted of him, and in the Hereafter he will be one of the losers.”

      5:14: “And from those who call themselves Christians, We took their covenant, but they have abandoned a good part of the Message that was sent to them. So We planted amongst them enmity and hatred till the Day of Resurrection, and Allâh will inform them of what they used to do.”

      5:51: “O you who believe! Take not the Jews and the Christians as friends, they are but friends to one another. And if any amongst you takes them as friends, then surely he is one of them. Verily, Allâh guides not those people who are the wrong­doers.”

      5:73: “Surely, disbelievers are those who said: "Allâh is the third of the three (in a Trinity)." But there is no god but Allâh. And if they cease not from what they say, verily, a painful torment will befall the disbelievers among them.”

      8:39: “And fight them until there is no more disbelief in Islam and the religion will all be for Allâh Alone...”

      9:23: “O you who believe! Take not for supporters your fathers and your brothers if they prefer disbelief to Belief. And whoever of you does so, then he is one of the wrong-doers.”

      9:29: “Fight against those who (1) believe not in Allâh, (2) nor in the Last Day, (3) nor forbid that which has been forbidden by Allâh and His Messenger (4) and those who acknowledge not Islam as the religion of truth among the people of the Scripture, until they pay the Jizyah [religious tax] with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.”

      These are your scriptures.

      November 21, 2010 at 6:37 pm |
  19. Phillyresident

    Islam, or al-Islam literally refers not only to a religion but to an all encompassing way of life, politics, law, theology. A Muslim is called to make his life al-Islam, or entirely Islamic in influence. We don't have to go far to find prominent adherents who espouse this widely. From Saudi Arabia, to Iran, to parts of Iraq, to Pakistan, to Malaysia, to the Sudan, to Somalia, to Mauritania, to Indonesia, and we could extend this list still more, there are whole nations who ascribe to the view that Islam is not just a religion, but what must drive politics, law, culture, and all aspects of life or it is not al-Islam. In this respect, the Lt. Gov. is correct. I don't mind CNN striving to defend Islam, but I hope CNN will also read the texts that Islam refers to that mandate exactly what Ramsey outlines. Be fair.

    July 27, 2010 at 2:01 pm |
    • Superskepticalman

      Christianity is also an all-encompassing religion, making claims on one's lifestyle. Does that disqualify Christianity as it would Islam. Ramsey is defiantly ignorant in his bombastic claims, desperate to attract voters as the primary date approaches. Unfortunately, he is little different from a similarly defiantly ignorant segment of our society that he seeks to represent.

      July 27, 2010 at 6:39 pm |
    • Daniel

      Can you name a major world religion that -doesn't- teach a way of living wholly in accord with its precepts of faith? This is a silly way to disqualify Islam as a religion, and shows a stark ignorance of the history of Christianity in Europe (read up on Spain, or the campaigns of the Teutonic Knights into the Baltic countries). Of course Islam is a religion, and its free exercise enjoys the same protection under the Non-Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

      July 29, 2010 at 1:33 pm |
    • sanityone

      You hypocrits are hillarious. If you hate Christianity, You are really going to hate Islam. And by the way there is historical record of Christianity. Bigots just choose to ignore it.You talk about cults. What about the cultics that stand and look at the pictures on wall in Egypt and pretend to know exactly what it says.The locals dont even know what it means, and the have lived there for thousand of years. But the all knowing scientist have unlocked the vocabulary.Bullsh## .As far a Islam goes. All they have to do is consist of 10% of the US population. (If you think that there are just comming to cohabitate with us. You are so errogant.) 10% of the US population and 1.75 billion brothers around the world in 7 of the majors countries that the US deals with.You are going to praying that there is a God and you can have Christainity back.

      November 21, 2010 at 12:48 pm |
    • I agree

      You know allot of people want to bury their heads in the sand and dismiss the threat islam brings with it. The Koran, Hadiaths all condem any religion but their own. Their religion specifically targets Jewish and Christian believers. Their whole theology is to create a worldwide Islamic world. Their agenda is quite clear.
      We make alottments for them to be a priviliedged class of minority yet our own religious freedoms are under attack. Seperation of church and state only seems to apply to Christianity and not imported religions. Give the Muslims a wide road to travel least we offend them. What about the offense they create. I am reading here in CNN that a convert to Christianity is facing the death penalty. We don't kill converts or put them on trial. The Muslim community although a minority is exerting both legal and political preasure to get special treatment.

      Lets no offend the Muslim's and lets surrender our country to their law. Who ih the heck agrees that they should have their seperate laws from the rest of us. If they want sharia law let them return to their home country. I live and served for the laws of this land no for Sharia Law.

      November 21, 2010 at 6:20 pm |
  20. SR

    I welcome enlightened debate about whether Islam should be classified as a cult and not as a religion since:
    1. Their presumption of Allah as the only God is non-verifiable. Hence forcing non-believers with threats of violence is surely illegal and at the least, barbaric.
    2. Their presumption that a man can be called the last "prophet" is non-verifiable. This is akin to saying i believe in UFO's. But at least we don't see that belief forced on to others. In islam that belief has been forced on a billion people.
    3. They believe that only their God is the one "true God" and everyone else's God is untrue or worse, the "devil". This is clearly Supremacist. It is not different from White Supremacist's belief.

    Any defense or debate of these 3 points above welcome.

    July 27, 2010 at 1:44 pm |
    • Sir Craig

      Here is the kicker: "God", be it Muslim, Judean, Christian, whatever, is "non-verifiable." There is zero evidence for a god and no way to prove its existence or non-existence. Therefore, basing the notion that the difference between a religion and cult relies on "verifiability" ends up with a zero sum argument, because none of the religions has more empirical evidence than the others.

      What truly makes a religion different from a cult is marketing. It is all about how many people you can sucker into your belief, which isn't a difficult thing because everyone has prejudices and there is always a belief system out there custom made to cater to those prejudices. And remember: Every major religion started out as a cult.

      July 27, 2010 at 2:43 pm |
    • Colin

      All three statements you make, are also true for Christianity...food for thought.

      July 27, 2010 at 4:08 pm |
    • Woody

      “The only difference between a cult and a religion is the amount of real estate they own”
      Frank Zappa

      July 28, 2010 at 8:57 am |
    • Guest

      We wouldn't dare call atheism a "major" religion, but a cult yes!

      July 28, 2010 at 10:29 am |
    • Jodie Sargent

      ot at all a realistic view of islam. Sory

      July 28, 2010 at 12:45 pm |
    • Grant

      Sandra: 1) Muslim is not a religion, but Islam is.
      2) America was founded without "in God we trust" – that came much later. Actually America was founded with the ideals of religious freedom and the separation of church and state.
      3) Do you actually know any Muslims or are you just basing this on sensationalist coverage of the small yet extreme minority?

      July 28, 2010 at 3:14 pm |
    • Leo

      Likewise, Christianity is also a political agenda. Neither Christanity or Islam is more valid than the other. The liberals of both sects are kind and compassionate people. The fundamentalists of both sects are hateful, judgmental, intrinsically violent BIGOTS.

      Both cults are praying to the same god, and don't realize it. And both sects are political movements. I'm sick of all of it.

      July 30, 2010 at 11:18 am |
    • RB

      Sir Craig,
      What about Christianity cannot be proven? Facts about it can be proven through historical record.

      July 30, 2010 at 12:39 pm |
    • Frank Rizzo

      Throughout human existence People have wondered over the meaning of their lives. Humans are a creation of Allah (God) who are given a chance in the testing ground of life to accept or reject Him. But who is Allah? What is He? How do we understand the One who has the power to create a billion galaxies with a word? People have often wondered about their Creator. Many have even have been tempted to draw fantastic pictures or make statues, claiming that that was Allah (God). Others have thought that there were many Allah's (God's), each with unique powers, running around in the spiritual world and meddling in the affairs of People in this World.

      The Aztecs with their Quetzequatl, the Greeks with Zeus, the Romans with Jupiter and the Chinese with Ti. In fact, in every culture that has ever existed has attempted to put a face on Allah (God).

      July 31, 2010 at 3:30 pm |
    • Elaine

      We all agree there is one God, regardless of what name we give this God. There is one.

      November 21, 2010 at 4:37 pm |
1 2 3 4
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.