Like everyone else at NRO, I’m disgusted by the horrific murders of three young Muslims in North Carolina. We don’t yet know the motive. The killer was apparently a militant atheist who posted anti-Muslim and anti-Christian writings, and — as Jonah noted — was reportedly involved in an ongoing, petty dispute with the victims over parking. The murder is evil regardless of motive, but I want to take a moment to address three salient points if the murder was, in fact, wholly or partly religiously motivated.
First, from the time of its founding, our nation has — imperfectly, to be sure — sought to become a haven for religious freedom, a place where people can practice their faith freely and without fear of reprisal from the government or their fellow citizens. Despite ongoing threats, we have achieved a level of religious liberty without historical precedent, and we live in a society that is mercifully free of the sectarian strife that still plagues much of the rest of the world. Religiously motivated violence is therefore not just vile, but also distinctly un-American: It contravenes the principles and goals of our founding, and in so doing sets back the cause of liberty immeasurably.
Second, religiously motivated violence mocks the principles for which we currently fight in Iraq and Afghanistan. There, we not only protect our own nation by fighting those who wish to raise the black flag of jihad over the White House, but we also protect the lives of Muslims, Christians, and Yazidis who are threatened with violence, including potential genocide, because of their respective faiths. Hundreds of thousands of Americans have risked their lives to defeat sectarian killers. Tens of thousands have been injured, and thousands of others have given the “last full measure of devotion” to the same noble cause. Virtually every American combat veteran you meet has risked his or her life to protect innocent Muslims from sectarian violence. Given this ongoing act of national sacrifice, when such killings happen on American soil — regardless of the faith of the victims — it is heartbreaking and infuriating.
Third, while it appears the killer was a militant atheist, I know that there is no American atheist support for religious murder, and the response of the American atheist community is one of revulsion and condemnation. I’m beyond weary of the phenomenon of trying to tie isolated acts to political or religious communities in the U.S. There is no American consituency of any real size or influence that advocates murder. Indeed, every single American constituency condemns it, unequivocally. In that regard, we are blessed. Across the world, there are constituencies for terrorism, but not in the U.S. I know atheists who will be shocked and grieved if it turns out that the killer did in fact come from their ranks, just as I would be shocked and grieved if the killer called himself a Christian. I want to extend to my atheist friends and fellow citizens the same grace I would hope they’d extend to me.
May God bless the families of the victims, and may God have mercy on the killer’s soul. If the reported facts are true — and he shot three people in cold blood for their faith, for their parking spot, or some other toxic reason — we should not have mercy on his life. The death penalty awaits.
This article first appeared on National Review.