May 12, 2010

What would a Religious Right-dominated America look like?

You can get a pretty good glimpse of that deplorable prospect from some recent activities in Jacksonville, Fla.

After Mayor John Peyton nominated Parvez Ahmed to the Human Rights Commission, Religious Right forces swung into action.

According to a May 7 Religion Dispatches article, several members of the city council led a crusade to keep Ahmed, a Fulbright Scholar and business professor at the University of North Florida, off the commission.

The reason?

You guessed it: Ahmed is a Muslim and some folks don’t want him on the commission for that reason.

Four members of the 19-member city council belong to First Baptist Church, a very large, very conservative congregation with less-than-tolerant views about diversity.

Council Member Clay Yarborough, for example, sent a questionnaire – inquisition might be a better term -- to Ahmed, demanding to know his views on everything from gay rights to the appropriateness of “under God” in the Pledge and on U.S. currency. No other nominee had been subjected to such probing in the past, but Yarborough apparently thought it was time to do so.

At a subsequent council session, Council Member and First Baptist congregant Don Redman, who serves as the council’s “chaplain,” led the audience in a Christian prayer, then demanded that Ahmed come forward for questions.

Redman said to Ahmed, “I would like you to pray to your god for us.” The implication was clear to many in the audience: Redman had just offered a prayer to the real God on behalf of the council and the assembled throng. Now he was inviting Ahmed to offer one to his Islamic deity.

Audience members, many of who came from a progressive group called OneJax, were appalled at the temerity of the demand and noisily burst into discussion and derision. The uproar finally settled down when Council President Richard Clark threatened to clear the room.

Where is the Religious Right council faction coming from?

Yarborough made it pretty clear in an interview with the Florida Times-Union. He told columnist Mark Woods that “our nation was founded on Christian principles” and that he “can’t find something lending to the separation of church and state in the Constitution.”

Asked if Muslims should be able to hold public office in Florida, Yarborough replied, “I would have to think about that.” Spreading the love, he said he “would prefer” that homosexuals not hold public office.

The council member was also asked if all kinds of prayers are acceptable in public buildings.

He responded, “The scripture teaches that unless one prays in the name of Jesus Christ, and since he is our only way to the Father, that that is how one should pray. And that is what I believe.”

So there you have it. In Religious Right World, Christians of the “right” sort run the government, push a sectarian agenda and graciously extend second-class citizenship (if that) to Muslims, gays and anyone else who doesn’t measure up to their doctrinal standards.

In the end, Ahmad’s nomination was confirmed 13-6. Three of the four council members who belong to First Baptist – including Yarborough and Redman – voted no.

Ahmad is now on the Jacksonville Human Rights Commission. The fact that he had to endure an inquisition and wade through a swamp of bigotry to get there is a disgrace.