This past week, Donald Trump announced that if elected he will prevent “foreign Christian-hating communists, socialists and Marxists” from coming to the U.S. He also suggested he would do something about the un-Christian socialists who already live here. He asked, “What are we going to do with the ones that are already here, that grew up here? I think we have to pass a new law for them.”
The audience at the Faith and Freedom Coalition Conference cheered Trump’s speech. Which makes you wonder about the relationship between faith and freedom in America. Will Americans round up and expel communists, atheists, and others?
Or maybe we will divide the union by ideology. Florida Sen. Rick Scott posted a video warning socialists and communists to avoid “the free state of Florida.” He said, “If you’re thinking about coming to Florida and you’re a socialist or a communist, think twice. We like freedom, liberty, capitalism, things like that.”
This almost seems like a parody. And for those who study the history of ideas, it is absurd. Socialism is not anti-Christian or un-American.
There are important Christian socialists in the American tradition, including Francis Bellamy, a Baptist preacher who authored the Pledge of Allegiance. Bellamy’s original pledge did not, by the way, include the phrase “under God.” That phrase was added in the 1950s during another anti-communist era.
Christian socialists claim that Jesus was critical of the accumulation of wealth and the exploitation of the poor. They cite passages in the Bible’s book of Acts, where early Christians sold their private property, lived communally, and distributed “to each as had any need.”
Of course, Christians disagree among themselves about this. Some Christians embrace socialism. Others preach the gospel of wealth. Some advocate for Christian nationalism. Others claim Christ was an anarchist.
Centuries ago, such disagreements would result in violence, as reformers were burned at the stake. We don’t do that anymore. Our secular system guarantees freedom of religion and freedom of thought.
An argument for secular tolerance can be traced to British philosopher John Locke. Locke thought that compulsion in religion was useless. Faith is internal and not subject to external authority. He said every man “has the supreme and absolute authority of judging for himself.”
Locke’s theory was limited in application. He did not extend toleration to atheists or Roman Catholics. A century after Locke, Americans like James Madison improved the idea and put it into the First Amendment to the Constitution, which prevents the political establishment of religion and guarantees the free exercise of faith.
This idea evolved to include toleration for Catholics, and non-Christians. Thomas Jefferson said that the state has no right over “conscience.” He explained, “It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are 20 gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”
Freedom of religion is linked to freedom of thought. The First Amendment also protects freedom of speech, and freedom of the press. Which takes us back to the question of banning socialists.
Would Trump’s proposed ban on socialists also ban their ideas? How would you prevent socialist ideas from being disseminated? Maybe we’d also need book bans as they do in “the free state of Florida.” Perhaps the Bible would be among those books.
Now Trump and Scott may suggest that socialists are somehow anti-American. But there is nothing more American than the First Amendment. Our Constitution allows us to argue, and think. Laws that target ideologies are un-American.
The assumption of our secular system is that the “free marketplace of ideas” is fundamental. That capitalist metaphor for freedom of thought means that if you disagree with an idea, you make an argument and let people decide for themselves. In this economy of thought, it is we, the people who sift and winnow ideas.
Sometimes bad arguments prevail in the short-term. But democracy rests upon the faith that good arguments ultimately defeat bad ones. The democratic faith believes that citizens are smart enough to discern right from wrong. It rests on the hope that citizens are wise enough to understand the difference between democratic freedom and dangerous demagoguery.
Read more at: https://www.fresnobee.com/opinion/readers-opinion/article276873328.html#storylink=cpy