Apparently, would-be Muslim refugees to the United States and mainly-Christian interfaith proponents already here are now allies in a war against American Christianity.
That’s the curious view of South Dakota state Sen. Neal Tapio, a Republican from Watertown, who tried to explain his position to reporters Thursday morning in a scrum at the state Capitol in Pierre.
“Refugee resettlement and interfaith dialogue is a part of a war, a silent part. It’s a part about taking away the Christian fabric of our nation,” Sen. Tapio told reporters. “Now some people are OK with that. That’s their prerogative. But there’s American patriots that want to fight.”
So, we should oppose American citizens who promote religious tolerance and dialogue, and also spurn Muslims who want to become Americans?
The legislator’s comments came after he confronted a gathering of some 50 South Dakota faith leaders, including Muslims, who were praying in the Capitol rotunda. The group planned their meeting on the Legislature’s second-day session to push back against bigoted anti-immigration rhetoric such as Tapio’s, and to call for ethnic and religious forbearance.
Tapio dismissed the faith gathering as part of a “political movement,” also complaining that, “I don’t like being called a racist.” Nonetheless, his opponents could perhaps reasonably be forgiven for their suspicions, considering anti-Muslim statements he’s routinely made. Tapio’s comments Thursday were temporarily obscured by the melody of faith group members singing “America the Beautiful.”
During the Capitol incident, Tapio, President Trump’s former state director, reiterated a Trump-backed theme he had often voiced before: He opposes U.S. entry of adherents to Islam, particularly from Muslim-majority countries that support the faith’s all-encompassing Sharia law. Which would be all Muslims, as all Catholics support canon law.
Notably, the courts have consistently decried the so-called “Muslim travel ban” as discriminatory and unconstitutional, repeatedly citing the president’s anti-Muslim statements—often on Twitter—as clear evidence of his unlawful, un-American intent.
But Tapio takes the anti-Muslim impulse further, characterizing immigration debate as ground zero in a clash of faiths. He implies that Muslims from fundamentalist countries are to be feared and rejected because in their societies people “can be killed” for unbelief in the majority faith. “If you don’t have the freedom to leave a religion, is there freedom of religion?” Tapio asked rhetorically Thursday. “And that’s the question we have to ask ourselves as a state.”
What Sen. Tapio seems to be saying is that if potential immigrants to the U.S. don’t believe like we do, we don’t want them here. Yet, while more than 70 percent of Americans are certainly Christian today, the country was founded on co-principles enshrining freedom of as well as from any particular religion (read Thomas Jefferson). Still, Tapio would have us believe that Christianity rules in America, and those whose faiths and societal norms are radically different from ours are to be feared and blockaded from our shores because some of them may be murderous extremists.
Somewhat disingenuously, Tapio also proposes creating a legislative panel to assess the state’s refugee and resettlement program “to understand the impact these groups are putting on limited financial resources of the state.” Indisputably, cost is his main worry here. Right. To his credit, Gov. Dennis Daugaard says such a politically motivated probe is unnecessary. Taneeza Islam, executive director of South Dakota Voices for Peace, told the Sioux Falls (SD) Argus Leader that the panel proposed by Tapio—as well as state Secretary of State Shantel Krebs, a U.S. House candidate—places “immigrants, refugees and Muslims in real danger.”
Sen.Tapio is clearly paranoid. Neither Muslim immigrants nor Sharia law are threatening “the Christian fabric of our nation,” an illusory assumption in any event. The nation’s fabric is woven of ethnic and religious diversity, of which Christianity is currently dominant. But manifestly, the ethnic and religious complexion of the U.S. is changing, particularly with the commanding plurality of Latinos in America today, a proportion that will almost certainly grow. Meanwhile, Americans in general have been growing significantly less religious in recent decades. The day when the United States will no longer be majority Christian or peopled by mostly white persons of Western European ethnicity is clearly on the near horizon.
This is not an invasion of “others” from without. It is an organic evolution long coming within, an emerging demographic metamorphosis of our own making. In this context, continuing to insist on American Christian exceptionalism is just silly.