The Religious Right doesn’t want the government getting involved with church activities – except when churches do things fundamentalists don’t like.
You may have heard about the recent flap over the Muslim prayer service held last week at the Washington National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. On Nov. 14, the church hosted several hundred Muslims in an attempt to build positive relations between Islam and Christianity.
Prayer rugs were spread throughout the church and worshipers were called to prayer in Arabic. During the service, Ebrahim Rasool, an Islamic scholar who is also South Africa’s ambassador to the United States, called on moderates to fight back against extremists in the Muslim world.
Even though this event was a well-intentioned effort to promote understanding and unity, the idea of a church being used for Islamic worship did not sit well with some on the political fringe. The loudest among them was perhaps U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), a staunch Religious Right ally who earlier this year grilled Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn about his views on hell during a hearing on Capitol Hill.
The day of the service, Gohmert ranted in the House chamber about some far-fetched conspiracy theory. He claimed Nov. 14 was the 100th anniversary of a speech given by the last Caliph of the Ottoman Empire and the Muslims who attended the service were secretly paying tribute to this event.
“It is sheer lunacy not to recognize how important anniversaries are to radical Islamists, to the Muslim brotherhood, to those who would kill and persecute and wipe out Jews and as they say, wipe the great Satan America off the map and the little Satan Israel off the map,” Gohmert blathered.
There is no evidence that the interfaith service was anything more than what it seemed, or that the participants in the service had any ties to terrorism. But as usual, facts don’t mean much to the Religious Right.
Even if Gohmert is right about a group of Muslims wanting to mark the anniversary of a speech, so what? Recognizing that event isn’t exactly going to turn the United States into an Islamic theocracy.
Unfortunately, Gohmert’s witch hunt wasn’t the only unhinged outcry from the far right. The Washington Post reported that a Michigan woman who lives in her car drove to Washington from Tennessee (where she was staying) solely for the purpose of disrupting the Muslim prayer service. Christine Weick managed to sneak into the private event and told the Muslim worshipers to “leave our churches alone” and insisted that America is a Christian nation. Never mind that they were there by invitation – while Weick was trespassing.
This woman has some obvious issues related to mental health, yet one misguided group called “Lady Patriots” is actually celebrating her actions on social media.
What many people don’t realize is the cathedral is not actually “national.” While it is often called the “National Cathedral,” that is an informal designation. Its real name is the Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in the City and Diocese of Washington. It is an Episcopal church and has no ties to the federal government whatsoever. As such, its leaders have the freedom to worship however (and with whomever) they please. This is perhaps the most fundamental right granted to all houses of worship in the United States.
But the Religious Right is perfectly happy to see a government official scolding a church for its behavior – even though it would never accept anyone else telling fundamentalists how to worship. Gohmert can’t stand the idea that a church, especially a prominent one in the nation’s capital, would be used to build a positive relationship with Muslims because it doesn’t help his agenda. The hypocrisy here is undeniable.