The Lantos foundation is non-profit non-partisan organization and as such does not take positions on political candidates. However, as a human rights organization that seeks to advance the robust protection of freedom of religion, conscience, and belief, we feel it is important for us to speak out on the recent discussion of whether or not a Muslim American should hold the office of President of the United States.
In many ways religious freedom is the well spring from which many of our other cherished human rights flow. Freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, and freedom of association –all of these hinge upon a rights frame work that honors and upholds the fundamental right of freedom of religion. The framers of our constitution understood the importance of protecting the right of all citizens of whatever faith or belief to participate fully and equally in the life of our society. Not only is this belief enshrined in the first amendment to the Bill of Rights, but equally importantly it is spelled out in Article V Paragraph 3 of the Constitution. There it states with utter clarity that, “…no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”
At the time of America’s founding, such forward thinking and visionary ideas about religious freedom and equality were rare. The subsequent centuries have borne out the wisdom of our founders in establishing a Republic where the separation of church and state, the full and free exercise of religion, and the equality of all before the law is robustly defended. In many ways this historically unique American formulation has been the key to our remarkable success as a society, and we have seen it emulated in constitutional charters and human rights documents around the globe. Furthermore, we can see the disastrous consequences in the form of religious repression and persecution, brutal sectarian violence, and instability in societies that fail to provide strong protection for this fundamental human right.
That is why it was so distressing to hear comments suggesting that a faithful Muslim would not be welcome to serve as President of the United States. Not only do these comments reflect a profound misunderstanding of the US Constitution and our national traditions, but they represent an egregious slander against the Muslim faith and against millions of patriotic Muslim American citizens. This is unacceptable.
We encourage all those who would seek the highest office in the land to live by and defend our first freedom –the freedom of religion, conscience, and belief. Furthermore, we would hope that in their communications and indeed in their conduct that they would seek to reflect our nation’s most honored values of liberty, justice and equality for all.