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

    Here's another fine quote that if you wear silk you'll be turned into apes and swine: "Those who permit silk will be turned into an ape or pig? Abu Dawud, Book 32, Number 4028: AbdurRahman ibn Ghanam al-Ash'ari said: AbuAmir or AbuMalik told me–I swear by Allah another oath that he did not believe me that he heard the Apostle of Allah (peace_be_upon_him) say: THERE WILL BE AMONG MY COMMUNITY PEOPLE WHO WILL MAKE LAWFUL (THE USE OF) KHAZZ AND SILK. SOME OF THEM WILL BE TRANSFORMED INTO APES AND SWINE." So what do you make of it? Is this a religion, or an early attempt to form a textile monopoly?

    July 27, 2010 at 4:30 pm |
  2. (B)iraq Hussein Osama

    one may argue a donkey laden with books is a virtual library!! but that does not mean he "knows" anything.

    July 27, 2010 at 4:22 pm |
    • rimjim

      To dedicated followers of Islam there is but one goal; replace all other religions and governments with Islam and Sharia law. In this, there is no compromise, there are no rules, and everything is allowed to achieve success.

      Read more about this in http://www.faithfreedom.org/articles/op-ed/time-to-end-islamic-appeasement/

      July 27, 2010 at 4:27 pm |
  3. Phillyresident

    Thanks Obama! My friend almost was on that flight. She got bumped, but the kids she was with on a school trip didn't. She had to identify them by the body parts. What a pal that Obama is, right? He's got our backs.

    July 27, 2010 at 4:20 pm |
  4. Phillyresident

    Here's the source for Obama's donation to Gadhafi family charities when the Lockerbie bomber was released. Apparently Libya said if you want to drill for oil in our country, you have to give our charities money, release the Lockerbie bomber by pretending he's sick, and only Allah knows what else. http://creepingsharia.wordpress.com/2009/09/26/obama-oks-400k-to-gadhafi-7b-to-pakistan/

    July 27, 2010 at 4:18 pm |
  5. Phillyresident

    How do you think I know so much about Islam? I said to myself one day, "what gives with these people allegedly devout in the religion of peace and they do nothing but deal drugs and shoot each other?" So I started doing a little reading with an Oxford translation of the Koran and kept going. Turns out that being a bandit is very Islamic, since the beginning.

    July 27, 2010 at 4:16 pm |
  6. Phillyresident

    Btw, I'm afraid of the drug dealers in my neighborhood, who are all devout Muslims. They believe they can sell drugs to unbelievers. So they great each other with a hardy "Salaam Alikum" and stand on the corners or sit on steps of public housing, or ride dirt bikes to deliver hard drugs all over the Philly. They were Muslim beards, and when not working, skull caps. Thanks, Islam! I have something to be afraid of. These devout Muslims carry guns and use them. Two devout members of the ummah are on trial right now for killing a cop. So thanks, I have lots to be afraid of, and it's often Muslim right in my own back yard.

    July 27, 2010 at 4:14 pm |
  7. Phillyresident

    There was a word for it in WWII - appeasement. Appeasement. How did that work for the Duke of Windsor? Neville Chamberlain?Appeasement of our enemies will lead to greater, longer, more costly conflict down the road. Appeasement of Libya freed the Lockerbie bomber, who went home to a hero's welcome, far from being forgotten or returning to a country that had moved past ideological hatred and violence. Obama was kind enough even to donate $400,000 to the Ghadafi family charities at the same time. Soon BP began operations in Libya. Appeasement. Maybe this is the charity building mosques in the US with oil money. Obama, in his zeal to appease, has banished "radical Islam" from the official lexicon. We hardly know why we are even at war, because our leaders are unable to state it clearly and simply. So we must accept mosques from groups who have money from we know not where, and intend we know not what. We must be nice and tolerant. King Oil says so.

    July 27, 2010 at 4:10 pm |
  8. (B)iraq Hussein Osama

    There are 100,000s of mosques in America. Yet, none of the 9/11 terrorists were born and raised in any of those mosques. They all came from Saudi Arabia, on the other side of the planet. One needs to keep things in perspective. Mosques have been around in the USA for decades, large and small. The number of terrorist related activity in US mosques is like 0.01% to date. considering how many muslims frequent them and use their services. The average American is advised to keep things in perspective. You are more likely to be killed by a drunk driver than you are by some terrorist related activity in your local mosque. And the drunk driver is likely not to be a Muslim from your local mosque either. They don't drink alcohol at the local mosque!

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

      I appreciate your honesty in saying Mosques attract radical muslims. It does not matter how long the mosques in US, what matters is since past two decades the radicalization got speed up. Last year alone the islamic terror activities surpassed past nine years of activity.
      You can try to find that in creepingsharia.wordpress.com.
      You can also find true nature of Muhammed in http://www.faithfreedom.org/

      July 27, 2010 at 4:23 pm |
    • (B)iraq Hussein Osama

      radicals are muslims like all other muslims. they go to the mosque like all other practicing muslims, dress like them pray like them eat like them. the issue is of mosques preaching "radical islam" and I am sorry to pop your little self created bubble, but 99% of the mosques in the US and 90% of the mosques in the Muslim World do not preach this so called "radical Islam". your "radical islam" is a fringe phenomenon even in the Muslim World.

      July 27, 2010 at 4:35 pm |
    • Phillyresident

      The drug dealers in my neighborhood in Philly go to the local mosque. Not all of them, but most of them. They are devout black Muslims. They're not Nation of Islam types, they're Sunni. The most recent murder victim shot on a nearby corner in my neighborhood was shot by a guy named Rasul. The two guys on trial for killing a Philly police officer right now are devout Muslims, with callouses on their foreheads proving their devotion to praying five times a day to Mecca. The slang term here is "raspberries" when you have a mark like that on your forehead. In Christianity, having a mark on your forehead means something else, but I digress. While there are obvious good people who comprise the Islamic faith in the US, there are also problems, extremely serious problems, with radical, radicalized elements who are very much going to the local masjids.

      July 27, 2010 at 4:57 pm |
    • Phillyresident

      When you drive past the Philly Prison System on State Road, here in Philly, it's like a train station bound for Mecca. The Muslim women visitors come every day by the dozens, in long flowing robes, some in niqabs, some in veils, some with covered hands, even, suggesting a strong Saudi influence. The prisons are in fact full of Muslims, who profess to be devout. How can that be? How can you be a devout Muslim and live a life of crime? You can if you commit only crimes against nonbelievers, the kufir. So in Philly is someone in a veil comes in a bank and seems pretty tall to be a woman, you'd be wise to take cover. The two guys on trial for killing a police officer had robbed a place minutes before dressed as Muslim women, with covered faces. So, this idea that Muslims are absent from crime doesn't reflect the average prison census in the US.

      July 27, 2010 at 5:03 pm |
    • Reality

      Osama, You failed to note the following information about mosques in the USA:

      Muslim convert journalist Stephen Schwartz, American Jewish Committee terrorism expert Yehudit Barsky, and U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer have all separately testified to a growing radical Islamist Wahhabi influence in U.S. mosques, financed by extremist groups. According to Barsky, 80% of U.S. mosques are so radicalized.

      July 28, 2010 at 7:56 am |
  9. Reality

    Islam is a cult of submission as noted below:

    Islam’s Koran and Submission

    Lacking the image-of-God doctrine, Mohammed emphasized something else in its place—submission. The very name he gave to his new "cult"—Islam—means submission. Submission in Islam means submission to God, submission to Mohammed as the ultimate prophet of God, submission to the Koran as the ultimate revelation from God, submission of women to men and submission of everyone to the caliph, sultan, shah or whichever other kind of Muslim ruler is in power.

    Hence the same Muslims whom Mohammed taught to fight fiercely against infidels of the house of war are taught to be docile submitters within the house of submission. The problem is that blind, unthinking submission, submission, submission—emphasized over eons of time—does not encourage clearheaded critical thinking, without which no democracy can succeed.

    In a submission-focused context, what can voting mean? Dozens of Muslims nations elect parliaments, yes, but to date there is always a strong man who can demand submission from the entire body of elected officials at will. Those who refuse to submit risk assassination.

    . . . A devout Muslim’s sense of his own intrinsic value, accordingly, does not rest upon recognition of God’s likeness within him. He measures it instead by the intensity of his uncritical submission to every requirement of the koran to includes it demands for Islamic world domination by any means.

    July 27, 2010 at 4:03 pm |
    • Nonimus

      Submission (Islam) Obedience (Christianity)
      not sure of the difference

      July 27, 2010 at 5:17 pm |
  10. (B)iraq Hussein Osama

    If you are in the USA, and want to be afraid of something. I suggest you try to be afraid of your Government and not your local mosque. You government has the ability to make wars by issuing government bonds that your future generations will have to pay for the debt in some fashion or another. This is more likely to cause you harm than the 1% of loony muslims that any local mosque is going to produce and who is going to blow up 5-6 people in the neighborhood in a suicide attack. Imagine you are a household and you indulge in all manner of bad habits, overspending and do not balance your books. You keep borrowing money to finance whatever suits your whimsy and you cannot declare bankruptcy. You keep borrowing from the Chinese and the Arabs to finance your bad habits. Instead of collecting money from the family members to pay for the running of the household. Eventually, the Chinese and the Arabs are going to come knocking at your door wanting their loans back. And they are not going to be very happy to hear you have no money to pay them, you spend it all on frivilous wars and other wasteful public spending. If I was an American, I would be more worried about this major major issue, instead of a looney from your local mosque causing you harm!! You are more likely to die of a car accident than of something coming out of your local mosque!

    July 27, 2010 at 4:00 pm |
    • rimjim


      Tell that to the millions of people enslaved, suppressed in muslim countries. On an average every 25years one country lost itself to Islam since its inception. Europe, especially england is in brink of losing itself to Islam. When that happens no bonds, no stocks nothinig does matter. There will be no value for life in Islam period.

      July 27, 2010 at 4:11 pm |
    • (B)iraq Hussein Osama

      one could argue a donkey laden with books is a virtual library!! but that does not mean he "knows" anything.

      July 27, 2010 at 4:20 pm |
  11. Phillyresident

    It's important to understand that what we call Islamic fundamentalists do not consider themselves fundamentalists. There is no other form of Islam to them, and right now, these are the people that control whole countries. Nazis weren't just a political party. It was not just about politics. It was ethnic and ideological cleansing using cultish adherents and strict social control while invading or "reclaiming" territory. Islam is similarly not simply a cult. Radical Islam is engaged in ethnic and ideological cleansing using cultish adherents and strict social control while invading or "reclaiming" territory.Radical Islam is declaration of war against the West, and right now, anything termed moderate Islam has no money or power to offer up much of a challenge.

    July 27, 2010 at 3:41 pm |
  12. (B)iraq Hussein Osama

    and notice the reference to nazis. As if the nazis are some alien race that landed from the moon. some other beings which have nothing to do with the west! who are the nazis?? the nazis are you! they are a manifestation of you. they are a product of christian europe. their military industrial underpinning, their hatred of the jews, all of these have their roots in europe. some people have even referred to Bush Inc. as a resurfacing of Nazism, with the same basic premises. Many argue that Obama was given the Nobel Peace Prize for that very reason, not because he had done anything for peace, but because one felt that he may scale back the emerging US fascism. So the prize this time around was more like a carrot.

    July 27, 2010 at 3:36 pm |
    • Gene

      To (B)iraq Hussein Osama;
      You stated; “the nazis are you! they are a manifestation of you. they are a product of christian europe. their military industrial underpinning, their hatred of the jews, all of these have their roots in Europe”. Nazis were the manifestation of evil, hatred and corruption. Corruption can infiltrate into any religion or non-religion. Christians DO NOT HATE the Jewish people.

      You stated; “"Religious freedom for all, regardless of how we feel about their religion." that does explain the vast amounts of porn, adultery glorifying TV, fornication promoting TV, alcohol promoting TV wherever Christians are a majority in the world". Many people who call themselves Christians , are not true Christians (Actions speak louder than words.) The muslin terrorists frequented strip clubs, while they were here to murder Americans. Hypocrisy is not limited to Christianity, or any other religion.

      Jesus did not teach his followers to murder those, who don’t convert to Christianity.

      July 28, 2010 at 12:45 pm |
    • (B)iraq Hussein Osama

      the argument that Jesus did not preach something that christians practice wholesale is flawed. The whole point of Jesus was to help christians avoid doing nasty things. If muslims kill 50,000 in the name of Allah and christians kill 500,000 in the name of money, most people who consider muslims to be morally superior to christians, because at the end of the day, it is the amount of sin you commit that matters, not whose name or motivation you commit it under.

      July 28, 2010 at 10:12 pm |
  13. (B)iraq Hussein Osama

    typical westerner. bombing peoples from the skies and destroying entire cities, while focusing on muslims "chopping off hands"!!

    July 27, 2010 at 3:30 pm |
    • Reality

      Bombing cities from the skies? Yes indeed!! And one more 9/11 horror show, and Mecca goes!!!

      July 27, 2010 at 7:59 pm |
  14. (B)iraq Hussein Osama

    how many hands have Muslims "chopped off" in the past 100 years compared to your military-industrial cult?? 100,000?? 200,000?? that does not even add up to 1% compared to the number of hands you have chopped off. So quit playing the moral card on us Muslims, you fool only your own self.

    July 27, 2010 at 3:27 pm |
    • Reality

      Once again for Hussein's benefit:


      You need to get a new source of bloody hand counts. The non-Christian, Asian countries lead by a great margin. Google " Selected Death Tolls for Wars, Massacres and Atrocities ".

      July 27, 2010 at 4:20 pm |
  15. Phillyresident

    Yet this is not a "cult" that violates basic human rights. It is a "religion" which must engender the full force of the liberal apologism that must defend all freedom of beliefs no matter how aberrant or abhorrent. How can educated people defend a religio-political system that demands full religions protection, which is itself responsible for what is modern day Nazism? How can you be so blind? Now I know how the Nazis did it. They got smart people to stop thinking and feeling.

    July 27, 2010 at 3:19 pm |
  16. (B)iraq Hussein Osama

    I am aware of a cult that does cut off the hands of the people as part of their faith. Its called the Western Military-Industrial-Complex. Perhaps you have heard of it!! They simply chop up your whole body into pieces by bombing you from the sky. Apparently just the hand is not enough. If you start counting from World War One onwards, this great cult complex has already "chopped off" a good 200,000,000 hands (thats 100,000,000 dead multiplied by 2 hands per dead). Islam is like baby compared to your cult.

    July 27, 2010 at 3:19 pm |
    • Reality


      You need to get a new source of bloody hand counts. The non-Christian, Asian countries lead by a great margin. Google " Selected Death Tolls for Wars, Massacres and Atrocities ".

      July 27, 2010 at 4:19 pm |
  17. Phillyresident

    Look after women kindly! They are prisoners, not having control of themselves at all". The passage's word in Arabic "awan" translated as "ward" or "prisoners" implies that women are in-between slave and free. In other words, because women are unable control their emotions, men are given authority over them.

    July 27, 2010 at 3:03 pm |
  18. Phillyresident

    Shortly before Muhammad died as a result of poisoning by a Jewish woman, Muhammad addressed a crowd of Muslims in Mecca. He commented on several issues including the treatment of women. Below is the pertinent quote from Guillaume’s translation of Ibn Ishaq's "Sirat Rasulallah". "You have rights over your wives, and they have rights over you. You have the right that they should not defile your bed and that they should not behave with open unseemliness. If they do, God allows you to put them in separate rooms and to beat them, but not with severity. If they refrain from these things and obey you, they have right to their food and clothing with kindness. Lay injunctions on women kindly, for they are your wards having no control of their persons."

    July 27, 2010 at 3:03 pm |
  19. Phillyresident

    Being Muhammad’s wife had many great advantages. However, even Aisha and Hafsah (two of Muhammad’s wives) were physically disciplined. Note that in each case when Aisha was struck she was married to Muhammad and she was probably younger than 16 years old.

    Sahih Muslim #2127:

    …When it was my turn for Allah's Messenger to spend the night with me, he turned his side, put on his mantle and took off his shoes and placed them near his feet, and spread the corner of his shawl on his bed and then lay down till he thought that I had gone to sleep. He took hold of his mantle slowly and put on the shoes slowly, and opened the door and went out and then closed it lightly. I covered my head, put on my veil and tightened my waist wrapper, and then went out following his steps till he reached Baqi'. He stood there and he stood for a long time. He then lifted his hands three times, and then returned and I also returned. He hastened his steps and I also hastened my steps. He ran and I too ran. He came (to the house) and I also came (to the house). I, however, preceded him and I entered (the house), and as I lay down in the bed, he (the Holy Prophet) entered the (house), and said: Why is it, O 'Aisha, that you are out of breath? I said: There is nothing. He said: Tell me or the Subtle and the Aware would inform me. I said: Messenger of Allah, may my father and mother be ransom for you, and then I told him (the whole story). He said: Was it the darkness (of your shadow) that I saw in front of me? I said: Yes. He struck me on the chest which caused me pain, and then said: Did you think that Allah and His Apostle would deal unjustly with you?…

    July 27, 2010 at 3:01 pm |
  20. (B)iraq Hussein Osama

    The Sermon of the Prophet (which is similar in importance to the Sermon on the Mount by Jesus), delivered by Muhammad in his last pilgrimmage in front of thousands of followers in Mecca, Muhammad highlights how one should treat ones wife. With kindness and as an equal partner in life. This is the basic teaching of Islam regarding treatment of wives. Was wife beating or wife abusing the basic premise of the religion of Islam, the Prophet would have told those thousands and thousands of people, just that. The fact that he hit his wife once for some reason or another, is not enough evidence to formulate a broad claim that he believed in "beating wives freely" as a religious principle. What he says in front of thousands of people while broadly summarizing the principles of the religion carries more weight.

    July 27, 2010 at 3:01 pm |
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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.