Donald Trump on Monday gave a foreign policy speech in which he promised to curtail immigration from terrorism-breeding countries and to subject potential immigrants to “extreme vetting,” including an “ideological test” aimed at weeding out un-American attitudes.
“In addition to screening out all members or sympathizers of terrorist groups, we must also screen out any who have hostile attitudes toward our country or its principles, or who believe that Sharia law should supplant American law,” the GOP presidential nominee said.
What to make of Trump’s proposal? Will it make America safer, or will it simply ban individuals with unpopular views? Joel Mathis and Ben Boychuk, the RedBlueAmerica columnists, debate the issue.
Religious liberty for me but not for thee.
That’s the essence of Trump’s proposed ideological test for immigrants arriving in the United States.
Everybody — yes, even us spineless liberal Democrats — wants to filter out terrorists and their sympathizers. There’s so little debate on that point that you can easily argue the Obama administration is already subjecting many immigrants to the kind of “extreme vetting” Trump says would be a hallmark of his tenure.
After that, though, it gets tricky: We’re going to exclude Muslims who believe their religious beliefs sometimes outweigh American law? Here’s the problem with that: American Christians already routinely make the claim that their religious beliefs trump the requirements of federal law. And they call these exemptions “religious liberty.”
The hypocrisy is abundant. A few years back, Muslim taxi drivers in Minnesota — citing their religious faith — refused to carry passengers who were carrying alcohol or accompanied by dogs. Conservatives raised the alarm that “creeping Sharia” would deny non-Muslim Americans their right to use taxis unimpeded.
Those same conservatives, however, regularly defend Catholic pharmacists who seek exemptions from dispensing birth control pills and big corporations whose leaders say their religious beliefs prevent them from providing the full range of health insurance otherwise required by law.
For American conservatives, Christians are allowed to claim fealty to a higher power than U.S. law and Muslims aren’t. Trump’s ideological test would enshrine this double-standard in American law.
One group that recognizes the problem: Mormons. Their own history as “exemptions” from the rule of religious liberty in America makes them sensitive to such issues — so much that Trump stands a very good chance of losing Utah, an otherwise rock-solid Republican state, in the November election. His new “ideological test,” it’s clear, is nothing more than old-fashioned religious discrimination.
Who said anything about a religious test?
Yes, liberals are suspicious that Trump’s talk of an ideological screen for immigrants is really nothing more than fig leaf for his original idea he blurted months ago to ban Muslims from entering the United States altogether. Some critics, including more than a few Republicans, said a religious test for newcomers would be un-American, to say nothing of unconstitutional.
On that last point, they are dangerously mistaken. True, the Constitution forbids religious tests for holding public office; but the immigration and naturalization statutes allow the president to consider religion among other factors when carrying out the law.
The question here really has little to do with religious liberty. Instead, the issue revolves around a basic principle of sovereignty: We get to say who enters. We get to say who stays.
If you take the American founding principles seriously — and, let’s face it, most people’s understanding of those principles is in pretty sorry shape nowadays — then an ideological test for newcomers isn’t a repugnant idea at all.
The first generation of U.S. leaders spilled plenty of ink trying to figure out what an immigration policy should look like. They worried that foreigners who did not share a disposition toward liberty and equality under the law could overwhelm the country. Cultural assimilation was essential.
George Washington made the point beautifully in his 1790 letter to the Hebrew congregation at Newport, R.I., home to one of the first thriving Jewish communities in the new republic.
Washington wanted to assure the Jews that they were as free and equal as any other citizens would be, even though they were a minority.
“For happily,” Washington wrote, “the Government of the United States gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.”
Notice the caveat: As long as you behave like good citizens and support the country, you are welcome to live as you please. It’s a small condition — one that should go without saying — but a condition nevertheless.
Trump’s idea of extreme vetting may or may not work in the long run. But it shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand.
Joel Mathis is an award-winning writer in Kansas. Ben Boychuk is managing editor of American Greatness. Reach them at email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, or facebook.com/benandjoel