RICHMOND -- It was probably predictable that the lone Muslim in the Virginia legislature would rise to speak Monday on the events of the weekend, in which President Trump banned people from seven majority-Muslim countries from traveling in the U.S.
But Del. Sam Rasoul (D-Roanoke) began his remarks by bringing up a surprising detail of history.
In invoking Thomas Jefferson’s Statute for Religious Freedom, Rasoul noted that that document was based on an earlier work by James Madison. And the reason Madison wrote his “Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments” was, in part, because a religious minority was being regarded with suspicion, dislike and mistrust.
That religious minority was the Baptists.
In the years before and after the Revolution, the Anglican majority regarded Baptists as dangerous. Traveling Baptist preachers incited lower-class workers with religious fervor and even welcomed slaves and free blacks to their gatherings.
“The Baptists were tormented and even imprisoned,” Rasoul reminded the House. A Baptist minister named James Ireland was imprisoned in Culpeper, where the jailer allowed members of the public to urinate on him.
“Madison agreed with Jefferson that a republic without religious freedom was impossible,” Rasoul said. “This liberty is a core Virginian value….What good is an American value if we’re not ready to sacrifice for it?
“The politics of hysteria and division are a distraction from what we should be focusing on...All sides shouldn’t just defend Muslims, women, refugees, Latinos. We must defend our core American values.”
Del. Mark H. Levine (D-Alexandria) also rose to speak about Trump’s actions over the weekend. Citing his own background as a Jew and his ancestors’ success in seeking freedom in the United States, Levine said he was “horrified” by the president’s actions, especially the ban of Syrian refugees from entering the country.
“America has always been a refuge for immigrants,” Levine said. “My guess is that everyone in this chamber is a descendant of someone who came here from somewhere else. This is fundamentally who we are as a country. This is fundamentally who we are as Virginians. I know most of you oppose this. I ask you to speak out.”
Both Levine and Rasoul were greeted by applause from all around the chamber. Levine’s more emotional plea drew a standing ovation on the Democratic side of the House and in the visitors’ gallery above. While Republicans didn’t stand as a group, many could be seen clapping.