It is well known that the Religious Right has a habit of distorting reality. But a former member of Congress took that to a new level recently when he incorrectly assumed that his local Walmart (of all places) was overrun by Sharia law.
One-time U.S. Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) wrote on his personal blog that he and his daughter received a shock when they went shopping earlier this month at a Walmart in Dallas. West said that while he was in a checkout line, “another Walmart employee came over and put up a sign, ‘No alcohol products in this lane.’"
Being the anti-Muslim conspiracy theorist that he is, West assumed that the man working his checkout lane was not only a devout Muslim, he must also have received an exemption from handling alcohol because Islam considers such beverages to be harmful. How did West come to this conclusion? I’ll let him explain.
“[I] used my additional set of eyes -- glasses -- to see the young checkout man’s name,” he said. “Let me just say it was NOT ‘Steve.’”
In West’s world, anyone with a “Muslim-sounding” name must be a devout adherent of Islam. For someone with West’s simplistic worldview, it’s also impossible that anyone of Middle Eastern heritage might not practice that faith.
So is Walmart, an Arkansas-based corporation run by a conservative Christian family, a secret hive of fundamentalist Islam? Hardly. West later added this message to his blog post:
“EDITOR’S UPDATE: We spoke to the Walmart store, and apparently employees under 21 years old are prohibited from selling cigarettes and alcohol.”
It was thus store policy, not religion, which prompted a Walmart employee not to ring up alcohol. That West would simply assume otherwise – without even a shred of evidence – shows the extent of his paranoia.
West is a real gem. For almost anyone else, this tall tale would be the most bizarre thing he or she has ever concocted. In West’s case, it’s just the weirdest thing he has discussed this month.
But that isn’t the end of the story. Before retracting his misguided assumption about Walmart, West wrote that the cashier’s alleged exemption from ringing up alcoholic products stands in stark contrast with the supposed persecution that Christians face when they refuse to serve same-sex couples.
“Imagine that, this employee at Walmart refused to just scan a bottle or container of an alcoholic beverage -- and that is acceptable,” he opined. “A Christian business owner declines to participate or provide service to a specific event -- a gay wedding -- which contradicts their faith, and the State crushes them.”
Everything about that statement is wrong. A Christian business owner who refuses to make a cake for or take photographs of a same-sex wedding is not simply following his or her faith. They are discriminating – and when they are punished, it is rightly so. And a Christian business owner who provides a service for a gay wedding is not “contradicting” his or her faith. Providing a service for a wedding is not the same as condoning it.
West is also a hypocrite. It’s clear he wants his fellow fundamentalist Christians to be able to dodge any legal restraints that they may not like. But when it comes to other religions, such as Islam, he wants them to follow the law to the letter. In West’s warped world, only the Religious Right should be allowed to get special treatment.
Sorry, Allen – that’s not how this works. If “religious freedom” can be used as a justification for exemptions from all sorts of laws, then anyone can make that claim – for better or worse (mostly worse). If you can’t accept that, then stop asking for the right to discriminate.