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When is a religion not a religion?

When is a religion not a religion? December 10, 2012

Caryn Riswold has some fun with right-wing pundits’ laughable game of heads-we-win, tails-you-lose — “Meet the NotReligions: Christianity, Islam, and …?

Riswold notes Fox News host Bill O’Reilly’s recent claim that Christianity is not a religion, but a “philosophy,” as well as the claim by Mat Staver of Liberty University that Islam is not a religion, but a “political ideology.”

To make sense of this, understand that O’Reilly and Staver are both trying to justify Christian privilege. They want the free exercise clause of the First Amendment to apply to Christianity, and exclusively to Christianity (and maybe Jews, too, if they behave). And they want the no establishment clause of the First Amendment to apply to every religion except for Christianity.

Thus when O’Reilly is confronted with a situation in which civil authorities seem to be privileging Christianity in violation of the establishment clause, he makes the weird claim that Christianity is “not a religion.”

But that won’t keep O’Reilly from loudly defending the “religious” freedom of any Christians, should their free exercise be constrained in any way (even hypothetically).

This is similar to the popular theocratic game of pretending that secular government is, itself, a religion. Government cannot be secular, this “argument” says, because that would constitute an establishment of the “religion” of secularism. But of course the Christianists making this argument are not consistent in their logic. At the same time they argue that secularism is a “religion” that cannot be established, they insist that secular people have no free exercise rights because such people have no religion.

Staver is dealing with the opposite situation from O’Reilly. He’s trying to deny that Muslims have the constitutional right to the free exercise of their religion, so he makes the absurd claim that Islam isn’t really a religion.

When the subject is, instead, the supposed threat of “Sharia” law, of course, Staver reverses himself and shouts that it constitutes an attempt to establish religion in violation of the First Amendment.

The self-contradiction is necessary for Staver. When Muslims seek the constitutional right to free exercise, he wants to deny it to them by pretending that Islam is merely a “political ideology.” But if it’s a “political ideology,” then there’s no constitutional reason that Sharia law could not be legislated in America.

It’s difficult to tell whether Staver is just an appallingly cynical liar and bigot, or if he really is this stupid.

Probably both, but either ought to disqualify him from serving as dean of the Liberty University Law School.

As John Fea writes:

There are a lot of good and thoughtful teachers and scholars who work at Liberty University.  It is time for these cooler heads to prevail and do something about the Dean of the Law School, Mat Staver.

Maybe that’s too generous to Liberty. We’ll find out based on whether or not the school is willing to do anything to rein in — or rid itself of — this dishonest idiot.

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