Room for Debate: Is Americans’ Religious Freedom Under Threat?

Companies have pulled their ads from a TV show that portrays Muslims as benign. Religious groups may be required to offer insurance that covers drugs that can induce abortions. A federal judge rejected a ballot initiative on same-sex marriage partly because of its religious arguments. Are these just bubbles in the American melting pot, or signs that religious freedom is under threat?

Thomas Farr and Timothy Shah, of the Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs, organized this discussion.

Religion in the Public Square by Tim Shah and Thomas Farr

Is religious freedom under threat in America today? Yes and no. Compared to Eritrea, where the government habitually forces Pentecostals into unventilated shipping containers until they renounce their beliefs, American religious freedom is in very good shape. But comparative evils abroad are a poor reason to be complacent about liberty at home. Today, in fact, multiple threats warrant special vigilance.

Liberty Is Elusive for Sikh Americans by Rajdeep Singh

For religious minorities in the United States, the promise of religious freedom remains unfulfilled. Sikh Americans, in particular, continue to face relentless challenges in the post-9/11 environment. Worse still, American law affords inadequate protection to Sikhs against religious discrimination and, in some cases, reflects deep-seated stereotypes about American identity.

As American as Religious Persecution by Noah Feldman

Religious liberty has two parts: freedom to worship and freedom from discrimination on the basis of religion. On the first front, the United States is doing great – and has been since the 1700s, well before we even had the First Amendment. Religious dissenters, dissidents and schismatics have long seen the United States as their Canaan, Mecca or Valhalla. Large spaces and the need for immigrants gave birth to the American tradition of laissez faire in religion, and a principled commitment to toleration has firmed up this commitment derived at first from self-interest.

A Campaign Against Patriotic Muslims by Salman Al-Marayati

Yes, religious freedom for the Muslim American is under threat. Fear-mongering toward America’s Muslims and their faith is very clear. The Center for American Progress issued a report this year concluding that anti-Islam groups are financed by a $43 million industry. This garrison of Muslim-haters views Islam as either a theological or political threat in the United States, and their work is reminiscent of the pre-Nazi propaganda produced by Wilhelm Marr that regarded Judaism as a threat to Germany.

Recently, a reality TV show called “All-American Muslim” was aired on TLC, and it became a controversy because it did not include a terrorist. Advertisers are being pressured to pull their support because the show was “offensive.” In other words, Islam cannot be defined by the mainstream in America. It must be defined through the lens of extremism.
Popular books about Islam in bookstores are “The Trouble With Islam Today” and “Why I Am Not a Muslim.” Law enforcement officials are being trained by anti-Muslim bigots so that profiling of Muslims is the norm. Hate against Muslim children in elementary and secondary schools is on the rise.

Human Rights vs. Religious Freedom? By Helen Alvare

Skepticism about the good of religious liberty is growing. Recently, the federal government stopped working with experienced, highly regarded agencies whose religious conscience prevented their providing abortions or contraception; federal employees said they awarded grants instead to lesser-ranked providers. Under proposed federal health care mandates, almost no religious employers would be exempt from providing insurance that covers contraception, including forms that function as early abortifacients; only organizations that primarily serve and hire co-believers qualify for the exemption. Commentators accurately quipped that the ministries of Jesus Christ and Mother Teresa would not qualify. The rhetoric accompanying these moves is hyberbolic: Representative Nancy Pelosi accused Catholic institutions of a willingness to let women “die on the floor.”

Federal Law, at Least, Is on Our Side by Hamza Yusuf

My friend, Cheikhna bin Mahfudh, was about to fly from Los Angeles to San Francisco recently and needed a quiet spot for his noontime Muslim prayer. Fortunately, his business class ticket gave him access to an exclusive airport lounge. Just when he was about done praying, which involves four units of standing, bowing and prostrating, and can look like yoga to the uninitiated, an employee came up to him and said, “Sir, it is not permissible to pray here!” He replied: “I was just exercising. Is that a problem?” The bemused man then said: “Oh, sorry. I thought you were praying.”

Public space is sacred in America. It has the sanctity of that small space you carve out on the grocery checkout conveyor belt, where the little bar you set down lets others know that they cross that line with consequences. We don’t like it when others don’t conform, when they deviate from the norm, and when they do, we become flustered.

A Risk Even for the Majority by Winnifred Fallers Sullivan

Asking whether religious freedom is under threat implies that we know what religious freedom is. Religious freedom has multiple histories and is understood differently in different times and places. For example, for some today, religious freedom connotes the possibility of an individual to believe or not as she chooses and to act consistently with that belief within the bounds of law. For others, religious freedom implies the right of religious communities to a degree of autonomy or self-governance. A few would argue that religious freedom demands withdrawal and separation from a larger society so as to enable a common way of life. Still others would say that the priority today should be religious coexistence, rather than freedom; that freedom is a misguided goal, whether for individuals or communities, the appropriate goal being to live with difference and without conflict. And of course, to enforce any version of religious freedom also requires a determination as to what counts as religion.

Falling Short of Our Ideals by Michael Mconnel

This nation was founded on the principle of freedom of religion – the right of individuals, families, churches and voluntary religious associations of all sorts to live their lives in accordance with their own understanding of God’s will. That commitment remains strong today.

But our practice often has fallen short of the ideal, as Catholics, Jews, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Muslims and others could attest.

Tolerance for Intolerance Bruises Lowe’s

Poor Lowe’s. The do-it-yourself chain made room in their budget for TLC’s “All-American Muslim,” a reality show about life in the Muslim American community in Dearborn, Mich., but the company ended up catching some focus for supporting a show that depicted Muslims as something besides terrorists. As it turned out, the protest was hardly broad based, with most of it coming from one guy. Still, the Florida Family Association, as David Caton’s Web site is called, claimed 65 companies agreed to stop advertising on “All-America Muslim.” That didn’t turn out to be precisely true.

But Lowe’s pulled back and jumped directly from the frying pan and into the fire. This weekend, Muslims and many non-Muslims in Dearborn showed up in force to protest the decision, according to The Detroit Free Press.

‘About 100 people of various faiths gathered at the Allen-Born Shopping Center on Outer Drive to chastise the hardware giant for what they described as caving to the demands of a right-wing Christian group who said TLC’s “All-American Muslim” does not include depictions of beliefs that appear to promote an anti-American agenda.’

The Florida Family Association ended up with a hacked Web site and the chief executive of Lowe’s is now in receipt of a letter from Congress asking the company to stand up to religious intolerance. And, perhaps worst of all for Lowe’s, a few people came to its defense at protests over the weekend: Armed members of the Michigan Militia.

TLC ‘All American Muslim” controversy

Special Coverage: Lowe’s pulls ads from TV show about U.S. Muslims

A decision by retail giant Lowe’s Cos. to pull ads from a reality show about American Muslims after protests from an evangelical Christian group has sparked criticism and calls for a boycott against the chain of home-improvement stores.

The retailer stopped advertising on TLC’s “All-American Muslim” after a conservative group known as the Florida Family Assn. complained, saying the program was “propaganda that riskily hides the Islamic agenda’s clear and present danger to American liberties and traditional values.” The series, which has been on TLC at 10 p.m. Sunday since mid-November, follows the lives of five Muslim-American families in Dearborn, Mich., a Detroit suburb with a sizable Muslim population.

The organization says 65 companies have left the show since it began urging advertisers to withdraw their support. Among those that have were Kayak, the travel Web site, and Lowe’s, the home-improvement retailer.

“All-American Muslim” has drawn an average-size audience on TLC on Sundays, typically a very competitive night on television. The series started out in mid-November with 1.7 million viewers, but subsequent episodes have been seen by about one million viewers. There was no noticeable bump on Sunday, a few days after Lowe’s decision first made news.

TLC declined to comment on the matter, other than to say that “there is strong advertiser support for the show.”
A number of politicians have denounced the decision by Lowe’s to withdraw its ads. On CNN on Monday, one of the two Muslim-Americans who have been elected to Congress, Keith Ellison, said the apparent decision by Lowe’s “has demonstrated a degree of fear that they don’t have to possess.”

“They don’t have to be afraid of a fringe group,” said Mr. Ellison, a Minnesota Democrat.
Ted W. Lieu, a California state senator, went further, stating in a letter to Lowe’s on Saturday that “if Lowe’s continues its religious bigotry, I will encourage boycotts of Lowe’s and look into legislative remedies.”
Celebrities including Mia Farrow and Russell Simmons have also supported “All-American Muslim” and criticized the decision by Lowe’s to withdraw from the series.

In a statement on its Facebook page, Lowe’s said it had “a strong commitment to diversity and inclusion” but had pulled its spots from the show because it “became a lightning rod” for “individuals and groups” with “strong political and social views.”

Gallup: Muslim Americans: Faith, Freedom, and the Future

Examining U.S. Muslims’ political, social, and spiritual engagement 10 years after September 11.

Ten years after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Muslim Americans are more optimistic than other major faith groups about their future, even as they report greater discrimination and less confidence in the FBI and the U.S. military, a new poll has found.

In the report by Gallup, which measures American Muslims’ political, social and spiritual engagement, almost two in three Muslims said their standard of living is improving, up 18 percentage points from 2008 and higher than any other faith group surveyed. This is the same period that Muslim leaders say has been the most oppressive for Muslims in this country, with rhetoric against their faith group appearing to rise.
Gallup analysts credited Muslims’ optimism in part to the election of President Obama, who has not appeared at an American mosque since taking office but has often spoken out about the need for Muslim equality and civil rights. Only 9 percent of American Muslims identify as Republicans, Gallup said. Eighty percent of Muslims in America said in 2011 that they approve of Obama, vs. 7 percent who expressed support for President George W. Bush in 2008.

At the same time, Muslim Americans are the religious group least likely to be registered to vote: 65 percent compared with 91 percent of Protestant Americans and Jewish Americans. The report’s authors speculated that this may be because many Muslim Americans are immigrants who have not yet become citizens (the poll did not ask respondents about citizenship) and because Muslim Americans tend to be younger than people of other religions, a trait associated with low voter registration levels.

Poll suggests that Muslims in France are increasingly devout

News Agencies – August 1, 2011


French newspaper La Croix has released survey data that suggests that there are more practicing Muslims in France than 20 years ago. An IFOP poll shows that 71% France’s Muslims intend to fast for the entire month of Ramadan. The survey suggests that the intention to participate in Ramadan has increased strongly, rising by 10 points since 1989, the date of the first French survey. Fasting is especially prevalent among the 18-24 age group, which also scores highly for visits to places of worship. The picture of the French Muslim population that emerges from the survey is of a “young” (62% are aged under 35) and traditionally left-leaning community. According to the deputy director of the polling agency Ifop, this political bias has been boosted by the recent government sponsored debate on French identity, which alienated many Muslims.

Norway massacre exposes Christians to ‘terrorist’ stereotype Muslims have faced since 9/11

When the “enemy” is different, an outsider, it’s easier to draw quick conclusions, to develop stereotypes. It’s simply human nature: There is “us,” and there is “them.” But what happens when the enemy looks like us — from the same tradition and belief system?

That is the conundrum in the case of Norway and Anders Behring Brevik, who is being called a “Christian extremist” or “Christian terrorist.”

As westerners wrestle with such characterizations of the Oslo mass murder suspect, the question arises: Nearly a decade after 9/11 created a widespread suspicion of Muslims based on the actions of a fanatical few, is this what it’s like to walk a mile in the shoes of stereotype?

Psychologists say stereotypes come from a deeply human impulse to categorize other people, usually into groups of “us” and “them.”

“Sadly, the last ten years, the term has been co-opted in public discourse and only applies to Muslims,” he said. “Now here we have a right-wing Christian extremist who has committed an act of terror, and many people don’t know how to react.”

Book review: ‘A Quiet Revolution’ by Leila Ahmed

When I was 13, one of my classmates came to school one morning wearing a beige head scarf. This was in the 1980s, in Morocco. Surprised by her attire, I joined a group of girls who gathered around her, watching them pepper her with questions. Our classmate calmly replied that she had decided to wear the hijab because that was what a “true” Muslim girl should do.

This struck us as strange. After all, we were Muslim girls too, but none of us, regardless of the degree of our piety, thought that our religion required us to cover.

“A Quiet Revolution” is an important book, even if at times it favors an opaque, academic language. It provides a thorough history of the resurgence of the veil both in the Muslim world and in the U.S. and adds significant nuance to the complex issues that surround the veil. Ahmed’s work will no doubt continue to inspire a new generation of Muslim feminists.

Pat Buchanan: Norwegian Mass Murderer’s Anti-Islamic Xenophobia ‘May Be Right’

It is far too soon after the tragedy to define Norweigian psychotic mass murderer Anders Breivik as bearing any mainstream political stripe, and yet his rambling, incoherent manifesto has landed him a number of adjectives– from “Christian fundamentalist” to”xenophobic anti-Islamist.” At least this much is clear: Breivik thought immigration was a threat to national identity and he’s apparently found one ally on that front in America: Pat Buchanan.

Buchanan penned an editorial on this Breivik monster for World Net Daily today (where else?), where he in no uncertain terms labeled Breivik “a cold-blooded, calculated killer,” “evil,” “coward,” and “deluded.” What he refuses to call Breivik, however, is “insane,” because he exhibited “some intelligence” in identifying what Buchanan agrees is the main threat to civilized European culture: Islamic immigration.

Alan Colmes Has Heated Exchange With Director Of ‘Jihad Watch’ Blog Cited By Norway Terrorist

When a tragedy like the one in Norway occurs, it’s human nature to try and explain the unexplainable. This almost always turns into a search for someone to blame. This frequently leads to attempts to guess what media figures the killers in question may have followed, putting those figures on the defensive. That defense is much harder when the terrorist himself cites your work explicitly. Such is the position that Robert Spencer, director of the blog Jihad Watch, now finds himself. Today, he appeared on Alan Colmes’ radio show to defend his site and his work.

Unsurprisingly, they found very little common ground.

Islamophobia behind Norwegian Carnage

26 July

Simon Sorgenfrei for Euro-Islam:

Less than two hours before detonating the bomb in down town Oslo on Friday, July 22, the suspect Anders Behring Breivik published a 1500 pages manifesto and diary entitled 2083 – A European Declaration of Independence. In the manifesto, using the pseudonym Andrew Berwick, he revealed the reasons and planning behind the Oslo bombing and the shooting spree at nearby Utoya.

Breivik Behring was arrested on the spot and taken to custody. He requested an open hearing because he wanted to “explain fully to the world what he had done” and “why he had done it.” His request, however, was denied after prosecutors and police persuaded the court to do otherwise, thus barring media from directly covering the hearing. In a press conference after the hearing on Monday 25, Judge Kim Heger said Breivik Behring confesses to as well the bombing as the massacre. But he does not, however, accept criminal responsibility as he envisioned himself forced to do what he did to “save Norway and Western Europe from cultural Marxism and Muslim takeover.” What he did, he said, was meant as a signal to the Norwegian people that the Labour party has betrayed the country through the “deconstruction of Norwegian culture and mass importation of Muslims.” Therefore he wanted to cause the party as much future harm as possible by shortening recruits through the shooting spree at the youth camp at Utoya. No responsible person, he continued, “can let his country be colonized by Muslims.”

Contents of the Manifesto

In the manifesto Behring Breivik states that the primary target was not to kill ”a couple of hundred” but to get publicity to promote distribution of the message presented in his manifest. He claims further that he wants to educate Europe and recruit thousands to the struggle for a new world order.

We are some of the founding fathers of the new world order. The conservative martyrs of today, both democratic and revolutionary, will be remembered and celebrated as the founding fathers when our cultural conservative world order has been established in the European world within 20-70 years. (p. 1225)

In the manifesto Behring Breivik entitles himself “Justiciar Knight Commander for Knights Templar Europe” and says he has been aided by the assistance from “brothers and sisters in England, France, Germany, Sweden, Austria, Italy, Spain, Finland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, the US etc.” During the hearing he also talked about two cells in Norway and several cells abroad. As for now the existence of such cells or a “pan-European Patriotic Resistance Movement” have not been confirmed. Even so anonymous members of the English Defense League have confirmed contacts with Behring Breivik.

The manifesto can be described as a pseudo academic cut and paste-work in which Behring Breivik primarily criticizes (1.) Islam and what he conceives as an Islamisation of the Western world, (2.) Multiculturalism, which is a threat to Western culture and civilization, and (3.) Cultural Marxism/Political Correctness which has allows this to happen:

Multiculturalism (cultural Marxism/political correctness), as you might know, is the root cause of the ongoing Islamisation of Europe which has resulted in the ongoing Islamic colonisation of Europe through demographic warfare (facilitated by our own leaders). This compendium presents the solutions and explains exactly what is required of each and every one of us in the coming decades. Everyone can and should contribute in one way or the other; it’s just a matter of will. (p. 9)

The main objective, as described in the manifesto, is to bring to an end what is conceived of as the “Islamisation” of “the West”. The process of islamisation is described as follows:

The constant process of the Islamisation of a country sets forward from small issues and the specific demands/requirements develop and increase progressively with the increase of Muslims percentage wise in a country. First batch of demands issues are noticeable already when the Muslim population are at 1% increasing until they become 90 and then 100%


When the politically correct (cultural Marxists/multiculturalists) agree to ‘the reasonable’ Muslim demands for their ‘religious rights,’ they also get the other components under the table. Here’s how it works (percentages source CIA: The World Fact Book (2007)). 

From 1-5%

As long as the Muslim population remains around 1% of any given country they will be regarded as a peace-loving minority and not as a threat to anyone. In fact, they may be featured in articles and films, stereotyped for their colourful uniqueness: At 2% and 3% they begin to proselytise from other ethnic minorities and disaffected groups with major recruiting from the jails and among street gangs:

From 5-10%

From 5% on they exercise an inordinate influence in proportion to their percentage of the population.

They will push for the introduction of halal (clean by Islamic standards) food, thereby securing food preparation jobs for Muslims. They will increase pressure on supermarket chains to feature it on their shelves — along with threats for failure to comply. (United States). At this point, they will work to get the ruling government to allow them to rule themselves under Sharia, the Islamic Law. The ultimate goal of Islam is not to convert the world but to establish Sharia law over the entire world. 

From 10-20%

When Muslims reach 10% of the population, they will increase lawlessness as a means of complaint about their conditions ( Paris –car-burnings). Any non-Muslim action that offends Islam will result in uprisings and threats (Amsterdam – Mohammed cartoons).


After reaching 20% expect hair-trigger rioting, jihad militia formations, sporadic killings and church and synagogue burning:


From 40-60%

At 40% you will find widespread massacres, chronic terror attacks and ongoing militia



From 60-80%

From 60% you may expect unfettered persecution of non-believers and other religions, sporadic ethnic cleansing (genocide), use of Sharia Law as a weapon and Jizya, the tax placed on infidels:


From 80-100%

After 80% expect State run ethnic cleansing and genocide:


100% will usher in the peace of ‘Dar-es-Salaam’ — the Islamic House of Peace — there’s supposed to be peace because everybody is a Muslim […] Of course, that’s not the case. To satisfy their blood lust, Muslims then start killing each other for a variety of reasons. (Pp. 488-490) 

The Swedish anti-racist magazine EXPO, with more than 15 years of experience in following Swedish and international right wing extremism, sums up the contents of Behring Breivik’s ideology as follows:

– The posts made by Anders Behring Breivik on the site and the manifest that he has spread places him in an ultra conservative anti-muslim environment. It is in this ideological strain that he has found the inspiration, arguments and analyses that have made out the greater part of his writing.

– The anti-muslim environment that Anders Behring Breivik lives in is made up of an idea based on the clash of civilization, a war between islam and the west, and also the thought of a left winged political infiltration of society that does everything to destroy tradition, western culture and people. Included in the ideology is also a resistance against multiculturalism that is regarded as a force that enables an islamisation of society.

– This ideological environment is built up around blogs, websites, networks and ideologues. It reaches into the various european populist right winged parties.

– It is impossible to disregard the ideological environment where Behring Breivik has structured his views on society if you want to understand the causes behind the terrorist attack in Oslo the 22 of July. Behring Breivik has taken contemporary anti muslim rhetoric and driven it to the most extreme point. That is why he sees the social democratic workers party as a legitimate enemy.

– We have seen terrorist acts with an anti muslim agenda before around the world. It was not long ago that Europe experienced genocide where muslims were the target. But the terrorist acts in Oslo on the 22 of July is the first example of terrorism of a greater scale where the culprit is an individual from the anti muslim environment. This doesn’t mean that those who are part of the anti muslim ideology also are guilty of the crime, nor can they be held responsible for it. It is also important to remember that the anti muslim movement neither supports terrorism or consider it to be a legitimate working method.

– The terrorist acts point to a worrying development. The fact that Anders Behring Breivik was inspiried inside the anti muslim movement and it’s doomsday prophecies show that anti muslim ideology can act as fuel for a radicalisation process.

– Expo does not know Anders Behring Breivik from earlier. Neither have we heard of the organisation that he says that he belongs to.

– There is information that points to some parts of the manifest as being copied from other sources. It it important to remember that this does not oppose the fact that Anders Behring Breivik used the material in order to spread information about his ideas and the ideology that he used to build his world of ideas.

Response and reactions

The manifesto borrows extensively from, amongst others, the so called UNA bomber Theodore Kaczynski, and so called “Anti jihadists” such as Bat Ye’or (Gisèle Littman), Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer. These references have been widely recognized and discussed and have, just as the manifesto in large, resulted in a great number of reactions worldwide. Spencer, Geller and Littman have rejected responsibility for inspiring the Norwegian terrorist. In the Daily Caller, July 25, Geller declines all accusations of inspiring Behring Breivik:

[F]rom what she’s read about Breivik, she believes no ideological force drove him to commit the horrific acts he did. The “close to 20,000 Islamic attacks since 9/11,” on the other hand, Geller believes were ideologically driven.

In Sweden a number of more or less well known far right-wing politicians and bloggers have also commented on the atrocities in Norway. Amongst the most noticed is former Sweden Democrat Isak Nygren, today spokesperson for the Swedish Defense League, who recieved the manifesto in an email sent directly from Anders Behring Breivik himself. On his blog Nygren states that he to some extent do agree with Breivik ideologically, but does not support his methods:

Even though this terrorist is anti-Islam, anti-Multicultralism and so on, like me, I don’t really have something in common with this guy. I don’t support violence.

Sweden Democrat Erik Hellsborn received national attention writing on his blog that “Islamisation” and “multiculturalism” more than anything else lies behind the carnage in Norway. “In a Norwegian Norway this would never have happened.” The blog post was later removed after pressure from party members.

On Monday July 25, Anders Behring Breivik, was jailed for 8 weeks by the Oslo District Court. He will be completely isolated for the first four weeks. Hopefully further hearings, intelligence work and analyzes of the manifesto will bring will bring more clearance, as well to possible accomplices, as to extremist right wing networks such as those mentioned in Behring Breivik’s manifesto.


A link to Behring Breivik’s video: