Mike Huckabee, the conservative former Arkansas governor, this weekend said that he is concerned about Islam’s role in Egypt’s future. As On Faith panelist Reza Aslan this week noted, Huckabee has also called for Americans to “take this nation back for Christ” and, while running for president in 2008, declared that “what we need to do is to amend the Constitution so it’s in God’s standards.”
In America and in Egypt, should a majority religion inspire political life? How will Islam play a role in the struggles for democracy happening now in Egypt and other parts of the Muslim world?
Mike Huckabee has once again managed to turn the facts of a situation on its head. To be sure, Islam will play a role in Egypt’s future; after all, it is the official religion of the state and one that is proudly observed by millions of Egyptian citizens. To conflate those beliefs with a small minority of extremists is as dangerous as it is disingenuous. Those who know the history of Egypt and the path that has led to the current uprising understand that this is not about “radical Islam” taking hold in Egypt but rather a movement fed by a passion for freedom and the end of patience for tolerating a dictatorship that has lasted too long. What will come next in Egypt is still in question, but the rise of an Islamic theocracy is hardly assured.
My hope is that Muslims in Arab nations will be inspired by their faith to pursue freedom in the same way that faith inspired some of the great campaigns and revolutions of our own history. From abolition to the civil rights era, people of faith were at the forefront of our push towards freedom. Scores of people in Egypt are screaming for a commitment to liberty in government and more equity in the economy.
Religion is at its best when it inspires us to do better and to be better. That is a fundamental principle that influences my decision to choose a life of ministry. I am proud to live in a democracy that protects my right to follow the faith I choose and to speak from my pulpit about the very important issues facing this nation. That is dramatically different from the vision of America Mr. Huckabee is putting forward. He believes “we need to amend the Constitution so it’s in God’s standards.”
Mr. Huckabee has a history of making these kinds of statements. In fact, that line of his about amending the constitution earned him the top spot on Interfaith Alliance’s 2008 “Top Ten Moments in the Race for Pastor-in-Chief.” And believe me when I tell you that this was quite an accomplishment given the comments we saw from other candidates from both parties.
Let me be clear, America is not Egypt. Egypt is a nation with an official state religion. I pray for reforms in Egypt that will lead towards a truer form of democracy. And I sincerely hope that once that democracy is in place, the people of Egypt will be able to choose what role Islam should play in the nation’s government. Let us all hope that, at the very least, the new government does a better job of protecting religious minorities – the Coptic Church has been a target of recent attacks.
The United States of America is the most religiously diverse nation on earth. This is due in large part to the religious freedom granted to us in the Constitution – our first freedom. When Mr. Huckabee claims he wants to “take this nation back for Christ” he is purposely misrepresenting the history and character of this nation. The secular nature of our government is not an accident; it was a well informed decision by the architects of our constitution. One that, in fact, they revisited over concerns that they had not been strong enough. Article IV of the Constitution states that “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” Concerned that this article did not go far enough, the framers drafted an amendment with an unquestionable guarantee of religious freedom.
I cherish the freedoms that were guaranteed to us by our founders and I will not let Mike Huckabee or anyone else diminish them or misrepresent them without expressing public disagreement. I hurt for the pain of the many people in the streets of Egypt though I rejoice that a desire for freedom is finding un-ignorable expression through their words and actions. With both hope and concern, I watch our brothers and sisters half a world away, many inspired by their faith, struggle towards a new beginning. When and what it will be, we do not yet know.