In the fine tradition of last summer’s months long nontroversy over a proposed Islamic community center near Ground Zero, GOP presidential hopeful Herman Cain has declared his opposition to a proposed mosque in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.
With no trace of irony, Cain said he thought building the mosque was “an infringement and an abuse of our freedom of religion,” declaring that “this isn’t an innocent mosque”:
”It is another example of why I believe in American laws and American courts,” Cain said. “This is just another way to try to gradually sneak Shariah law into our laws, and I absolutely object to that.”
A little background: The proposed mosque in Tennessee became a target of arson and vandalism in September of last year, not long after the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” became the freak show story of the summer. A local group tried to block construction, claiming that Islam wasn’t actually a religion. The plaintiffs’ attorney argued that Muslims aren’t entitled to the same rights as others because “these are the same people who flew jets into the World Trade Center on 9/11,” and said the whole thing was an effort to bring Tennessee under Taliban-style Islamic law. The whole controversy prompted the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department to file a brief noting that Islam is in fact, a religion.
As with Cain’s unconstitutional religious test however, the problem for him and other mosque opponents is not sharia law. It’s U.S. law. There are both federal and state laws on the books that prevent local zoning laws from being used to block construction of religious institutions, which is why opponents argue that Islam isn’t a religion. At both the federal and the state level, those bills were the work of Republicans — it just didn’t occur to them at the time that “religious freedom” applied to Muslims. The judge, not surprisingly, agreed that Islam is a religion and let construction go forward.
More broadly, Cain has spent the last few months fibbing about declaring he’d exclude Muslims from his cabinet or from the judiciary if he were elected. Cain later tried to walk back his unconstitutional religious test for public service, complaining that “I’ve been asked that same question 18,000 times.”
Of course, the reason why Cain keeps getting asked about his anti-Muslim views is that no other 2012 GOPer has matched his extensive use of anti-Muslim rhetoric to win over the Islamophobic wing of the Republican base. Cain may not be doing too well in the polls, but if there’s an anti-Muslim primary underway, he is the clear frontrunner. With people like Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum in the race, that’s no small achievement, although I’m not sure it’s one to be proud of.