It is in the nature of religious traditions to be somewhat illiberal. Indeed, a religion that does not require its adherents to affirm at least some belief is probably a logical impossibility. Christians, for example, must believe something about the nature of Christ. Even Unitarians, who advocate tolerance of all religions, must affirm a belief in tolerance.

Recently, and largely because of the events of September 11, 2001, enhanced attention has been paid to certain potentially illiberal aspects of Islam in the United States. The journalist Daniel Pipes, for example, has written about certain Moslem Americans who, according to his research, have called for the formal establishment of Islam in this country. Indeed, he has quoted one such individual as arguing that “Muslims cannot accept the legitimacy of the American secular system, which is against the orders and ordainments of Allah.”

I do not seek to defend or refute Pipes' thesis. Given Islamic establishmentarianism elsewhere in the world, and given the significant number of Moslems in the United States, it would not be surprising if at least some Moslem Americans supported the formal establishment of Islam in this country. But without regard to whether Pipes is factually correct, I submit that Moslem establishmentarianism in the United States, to the extent it exists, is no more a threat to the primarily liberal ideals of this country than was Roman Catholic establishmentarianism some fifty years ago. Indeed, some of the parallels between perceptions of Islam in the United States today and perceptions of Roman Catholicism in the United States fifty years ago are revealing.

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Notes/Citation Information

Paul E. Salamanca, The Liberal Polity and Illiberalism in Religious Traditions, 4 Barry L. Rev. 97 (2003).



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