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First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC
By Orson Scott Card October 28, 2007

Civilized Religion

There are those who would like to tell you that no religion is civilized, but these tend to be people whose ignorance of history is so profound as to appear deliberate.

Human beings sometimes do terrible things, and when they do, they invariably find reasons to invoke their belief system, whatever it is, to excuse their bad behavior.

Thus Communists have committed their barbarities in the name of "the good of the people," just as Christians and Muslims and practically everybody else, when they decided certain people needed killing or oppressing, found a way to excuse themselves in the name of whatever they thought gave them superior authority.

In most cases, though, religions -- particularly those with gods -- also offer a mitigating force against violence and barbarity. While the conquistadors busily planted crosses wherever they decided native Americans needed enslaving, there were in fact Catholic priests who labored mightily -- and with much success -- to prevent as much mistreatment of the native people as they could, and to preserve what they could of their culture.

No one could seriously argue that the conquistadors conquered because of their purported Christian faith. But the fact that in almost every place the Spanish conquered, large populations of Indians survived, can be credited to Christianity.

That's because Christianity, like other civilizing religions, has an ideology that attempts to suppress warlike behavior and personal violence. So even though hypocrites could violate Christian doctrine and claim to be Christians while doing it, there were always Christians to openly contradict them, and the plain language of Jesus was on the side of those who abjured violence.

Sometimes, though, religion itself (whether or not it has any gods) becomes the actual cause of instead of the excuse for the barbarity. That is, the tenets of the religion promote rather than try to suppress violence and conquest.

It happens that at this moment we are at war with a worldwide terrorist conspiracy whose slaughters are excused by an appeal to actual doctrines in the religion of Islam.

That is, the plain language of the Quran justifies warfare and killing, and long tradition within Muslim culture takes those tenets literally. There are those who will claim that "Islam is a peaceful religion" and that jihad -- holy war -- is really about "personal struggle." I rejoice that some Muslims choose to take these passages in the Quran figuratively -- but the language is there, and Islamofascist murderers of Al Qaeda, Hamas, the Taliban, Hezbollah, and the theocratic government of Iran take it very literally.

Large portions of the people professing Islam believe that God has given them, not just the right, but the duty to kill people who, by their doctrines, "deserve" to die.

Freedom of Religion

The U.S. Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, and while that has recently been twisted into an instrument of oppressing and suppressing American Christianity, it still stands as an American ideal.

Whatever dark deeds are in Christianity's past, the fact remains that with a few ugly exceptions, America has been a place where the various sects of Christianity and all other civilized religions have declared a truce.

Surely we can say that the essence of our freedom of religion is that every individual in the United States has the right to change his religion whenever and however he wants.

Except Muslims. Because it is the belief of Muslims throughout the world that it is the duty of good Muslims to kill any Muslim who converts to a different faith.

Now, most American Muslims would probably be outraged by that sentence. "I don't believe in killing people who convert away from Islam," they would insist. "We don't kill anybody."

But they cannot deny that the doctrine is widespread and openly taught throughout the Muslim world, and any American growing up Muslim is likely to be taught that doctrine at some point, by someone. And the more fundamentalist they become, the more likely they are to believe they have the duty to kill apostates -- those that break the faith.

And this religion operates inside the United States, invoking the protection the Constitution provides to religions within its borders. Similarly, Islam operates in European nations with similar protections for religion.

To threaten to kill anyone who leaves an organization is one of the hallmarks of organized crime: Once you have joined the Mob, you don't leave it alive. Only with Islam, most of its members are born into it -- they never had a choice. Yet if they decide they believe something other than Muslim doctrine, there will be Muslims who think it is their duty to kill them.

This brand of Islam denies its members any freedom of conscience.

No matter how moderate many American Muslims might be, there are among them many others who believe that no Muslim has the right to change religions. A "former Muslim" who is still breathing is an offense to them. So even the moderate Muslims who may believe in freedom are not free. They run the serious risk, if they ever leave Islam, of being murdered by one of the not-so-moderate Muslims.

So the question is: Does a religion that believes in denying freedom of religion to others deserve the same protection as religions that uphold freedom of religion?

No Constitutional Right Is Absolute

It is an established principle of Constitutional law that none of the rights granted in the Constitution is absolute. Freedom of speech, for instance, has its limits. Civil libertarians may have struck down obscenity laws, thus legalizing four-letter words like f-- and s-- and c--; but the very same people enacted hate-speech and hate-crime laws, as well as laws against work-place discrimination, that in effect illegalize other words, like n----- and k-- and s-- and w- and ... you get the idea.

Everybody knows that words are not just words, they are also actions, and some actions, even if they consist of words, can and should be banned by law.

The same is true of the right to freedom of assembly. You have to have a parade permit before you can obstruct traffic with your demonstration. And somehow the Supreme Court decided that it is constitutional to ban kneeling and praying too close to an abortion clinic.

Freedoms come with limitations and responsibilities, and the law recognizes this.

When it comes to freedom of religion, Mormons like me are keenly aware of the fact that there are well-established limits to what religions can do. Back in the 19th century, when the Mormon Church promoted the practice of polyandry (one man, multiple wives), the church tried and failed to get the Supreme Court to protect that practice under the freedom of religion clause in the Constitution.

The Supreme Court held on that occasion that the Constitution did not allow religions to engage in practices that were grossly offensive to the moral standards of the rest of the country. You can gather and preach and teach, but the moment you engage in a practice that offends public decency, limitations kick in.

How did the government enforce the anti-polygamy laws? The Mormon Church was disincorporated, its property seized (including church meetinghouses and temples), and its leaders arrested or driven into hiding.

States also got in the act. Idaho, with a large Mormon population, forbade anyone to vote or hold public office who believed in "celestial marriage" -- in those days a doctrinal code-word for polygamy. Utah, in order to be admitted to the union, had to have a state constitutional ban that could never be amended, forbidding the practice of polygamy.

The Mormon Church capitulated with a manifesto in 1890 professing that we no longer taught or condoned plural marriage.

Still, there was a widespread perception that the Mormons would only pretend to adhere to the law, while secretly preaching and practicing polygamy. There were even Mormons who thought it was all a smokescreen to fool the outside world. But by 1907, it was clear to everyone that the church leadership was serious about eliminating polygamy as a practice and a teaching in the Church.

For the past hundred years, the fastest way to get kicked out of the Mormon Church is to preach or practice plural marriage. When TV shows like the ludicrous Big Love give the impression that the Mormon Church really condones polygamy, it is a lie.

Even when the Mormon Church goes into countries where polygamy is legal -- many nations in Africa, for instance -- polygamous converts to the church are required to separate from (while still providing support for) all wives except the first.

In order to be credible in our claim to have abandoned polygamy, we had to become the most anti-polygamist church in America -- in the world. And we did, even if we still don't get much credit for it.

That's how a religion that is adjudged to be barbaric goes about civilizing itself to be worthy of the protection of the U.S. Constitution.

Civilizing American Islam

Personally, I'm glad my church gave up polygamy long before I was born. But when I compare the Mormon practice of polygamy with the Muslim doctrine of killing apostates, I think it makes polygamy look a lot milder, don't you?

It is dangerous in the extreme for America to tolerate, as a religion, a group of people who openly preach -- including to children and adolescents -- that it is their unique right to kill those who leave their religion, and also unbelievers who act against their religion.

It's perfectly all right for a religion to preach and believe that someday their believers will cover the whole earth. A lot of Christians believe that, and so do a lot of Muslims, and that's fine -- as long as you believe that this is to be accomplished either by voluntary religious conversion or by divine intervention.

People of one faith can coexist with people of any other faith as long as they all agree that each has the right to offer membership to anyone who comes to believe their doctrine, and to actively solicit such conversions.

You can hate it when someone converts away -- you can hold a funeral for the person who converted. What you can't do is make the funeral literal rather than symbolic.

Right now, because the Church of Political Correctness is the established church of the American elite, Islam has had extraordinary tolerance for these dangerous, violent, anti-American doctrines that are frequently taught among them. Mostly they are in denial, pretending that American Muslims don't teach these things.

But even if only five percent of the imams are preaching the right-to-kill doctrine, it poses a direct danger to American citizens, since this is precisely the doctrine that justifies terrorist massacres as well as individual terrorism against Muslims who wish to leave that religion.

I bet that a significant number of American Muslims -- maybe even most of them -- would very much like to separate themselves from that doctrine and those who preach it.

But there are several reasons why this is very, very hard to do.

First, the Wahhabists of Saudi Arabia send enormous amounts of money to America and other countries all around the world, in order to support the teaching of their particular brand of Islam -- which specifically teaches this dangerous, barbaric doctrine.

Second, Islam is not, strictly speaking, an organized religion. Since Islam has long asserted the right to govern and there is no separation of church and state, Muslim governments have been the only authorities that could determine what was and was not tolerable belief and practice. So in America and Europe, where Islam is not the governing power (yet), there is no authority that can say that this Muslim teacher or group is legitimate and that one is not.

It's Time for Islam to Organize

Let's suppose that the American government wakes up to the danger of extending the protection of the Constitution to all Muslims. Let's suppose a law was enacted stating that the laws respecting freedom of religion apply only to religions that allow freedom of conversion. If you do not allow any of your members age 18 or older to change religions without loss of life, liberty, or property, then you get no protection from the Constitution.

We could go farther, and say because the government has a monopoly on the power (within constitutional limitations) to deprive citizens of life, liberty, or property, then any religion that claims such rights, whether or not it can be proven to have acted on that claim, does not qualify as a religion when it comes to constitutional protections.

Nobody will be locked up or thrown out of the country just for being Muslim or believing or preaching Muslim doctrine.

But any Muslim congregation that has not rejected the right-to-kill doctrine must pay full taxes on its property and its members get no tax deduction for their contributions.

And those that actively taught the right to kill could be treated, like the Mormon Church once was, as a subversive organization, to be disincorporated, its property seized, and its funds blocked.

Furthermore, the FBI will not be barred from observing and tracking members of congregations that have not rejected the right-to-kill doctrine as if they were members of subversive organizations -- since they would be.

However, when such laws are enacted, there would be a grace period of a year in which American Muslim religious communities could join one or more national or regional certifying groups, rather like the various Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, and other national sectarian groups or conventions.

All the member congregations would attest that they would not tolerate any teaching of the right-to-kill doctrine in their mosques or among their membership -- just the way the Mormon Church had to give up its practice of polygamy and stop teaching it anywhere in the church in order to be legally recognized.

Is This Un-American?

I can hear civil libertarians screaming: This is the government trying to dictate what people believe!

But it is nothing of the kind. It is the government declaring that its hands-off treatment of religion only applies to religions that also have a hands-off policy toward people who belong to or join with other religions.

It doesn't interfere with Muslims' right to convert other people to their faith, just with their ability to teach that Muslims have a "right" to kill people who convert away from Islam or who otherwise offend Muslim sensibilities.

There's no test oath, no spying on people's consciences. But American Muslim organizations have to have as their stated policy a repudiation of the widespread Muslim doctrine of a right or duty to kill infidels of any kind.

Nor would this target Islam specifically. Let this law apply to all religious groups equally: any religion that insists on teaching a right to kill would lose its legitimacy as a religion.

And don't kid yourself -- we already have the IRS actively deciding what qualifies as a church when it comes to tax deductions. You can't just declare your home a religious meetinghouse and therefore exempt from property taxes. The IRS will insist that you meet certain (vague) standards.

This standard will be clear and universally applied, and any religion that can't sign it does not qualify as a civilized religion anyway.

But now I'll tell you the law that Muslims would like to have in force: No one can proselytize for any religion except Islam, under the severest penalties. That's the law in most Muslim countries.

If America enacts a law simply requiring Muslims (and all other religions) to reject any claim to have a right to kill unbelievers, you can bet there will be bloody riots all over the Muslim world. That's because, worldwide, Muslims believe that no one has a right to restrict them in any way, while they have the right to restrict everybody else right up to and including the death penalty.

This one-sided view is the opposite of the American way. It is the opposite of religious freedom. And any Muslims who claim the right to restrict others while accepting no restrictions themselves are a danger to every free society on earth.

It's Good for Islam, Too

The irony is that the right to kill is the doctrine that guarantees the corruption of Islam from the start. If people are only Muslims under fear of the death penalty, then how do we know there are any real Muslim believers at all?

Only when people are free to leave a religion can you take their claim to be true believers seriously.

So if America enacted such a law, then only in America would Islam exist in any kind of purity, because only in America would you be sure that anyone claiming to be Muslim really meant it and wasn't saying it for fear of some other Muslim killing him.

Remember when Salman Rushdie was put under a death penalty by the Iranian ayatollahs? I remember that people were shocked when one-time rock star Cat Stevens, a convert to Islam, publicly stated that of course Muslims had a duty to kill apostates like Rushdie.

But Cat Stevens was merely speaking the openly taught doctrine. And because he had freely converted to Islam, he apparently didn't mind.

But we should mind, not as Christians or Jews, but as Americans -- and as civilized people. We believe that the only people who should have the power to take life, deny liberty, or seize property are those who have been certified by governments elected by the majority of citizens.

Right from the beginning, Islam has been a barbaric force in the world -- invading "infidel" nations and oppressing unbelievers in every land they conquer. There is no such thing as a Muslim nation that was not forcibly converted in the first instance. Islam has been anti-freedom from the start. Its famous "tolerance" of Jews and Christians would be regarded as vile intolerance if anyone proposed such policies today, in a free Western country.

It is time for Islam to join the civilized world -- the world where people can preach for and believe in and join with, argue against and doubt and quit any religion they want. Freedom of religion is a recent and hard-won concept, so it would be absurd to criticize Islam for being a few hundred years behind the West on this issue.

However, the time has come, with people committing barbaric crimes around the world in the name of the Muslim right-to-kill doctrine, for the peaceful majority of Muslims to commit to their opposition to that doctrine -- and to organize themselves so that they can excommunicate (disqualify as Muslims) any Muslim who does not reject that teaching.

Up to now, the only way that Muslims could kick a Muslim out of the Muslim faith was to kill him. It's time for them to set up an authoritative mechanism to allows them to excommunicate those who make all Muslims look barbaric.

Then, when Muslims themselves are able to excommunicate the barbarians and forbid them to call themselves legitimate Muslims, the religion of Islam can be accepted and trusted as another civilized religion, worthy of the protections of the Constitution.

Meanwhile, however, it is time for is to stop extending the protection of the Constitution to those who, under the guise of religion, are actively promoting the right to deprive Americans of their civil rights -- including the right to continue breathing.

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