The other day, in a blog discussion about the President's decision not to join a church in Washington, someone commented, "That is because he's more comfortable in a mosque." I hope the President would be comfortable in a mosque, in a synagogue, in a Christian church. But the comment was not about the President's ability to be present in a wide variety of places. It was about the weird notion that this President, an adult convert to the Christan faith, isn't a Christian, and the frightening subtext of the comment appears to be that it is alright to be prejudiced against Muslims, in the same way that it once was, in many places, alright to be prejudiced against Roman Catholics or Jews. I lived as a very young child in a suburban community where it was impossible for a Jew to buy a home. I didn't know that until a half-century later when a Jewish friend told me that the reason she had grown up in a neighboring town was because her family couldn't buy a home in the town where I had lived.
Standing up to prejudice against Muslims, as New York's mayor did in his remarks about the Islamic center controversy, doesn't mean being uncritical about actions of some Muslims. In fact, we need to be honest about our assessments of the actions of all our neighbors, not scapegoating any of them, but holding them to same standard to which we are held. It is, I think, appropriate for New Yorkers to say that they would rather the Islamic center be built somewhere else, but is entirely inappropriate to insist that that point of view trump the desire and the rights of those building the center. There are many things in life that I would rather not have to endure, but it would be childish of me to insist that those things be banned.
The question of the President's faith raises another question: is having a religious faith essential to success in politics? The Constitution, in Article VI, section 3, is clear that "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States." That's the Constitution, but it seems that having no religious faith would be an almost insurmountable obstacle to political success.