A well-known First Amendment law professor publicly denounces an Oklahoma state legislator for claiming Islam is not a religion because it condones violence to make political gains and achieve global conquest. Remarkably, however, the good professor remained conspicuously silent when President Obama used precisely the same logic when he told the nation on September 10 of this month that the Islamic State (a/k/a ISIL or ISIS) was not part of Islam or any religion. See our criticism of President Obama’s logic here, including our tongue-in-cheek fascination that commentators such as the good professor seem to be speechless and devoid of logical principles when the president speaks in favor of Islam:
We are fascinated, literally so, that commentators just let this statement about what constitutes a religion go without even a word. Surely the president had the opportunity while he studied at Harvard and other fine schools to read a little history about religious wars by religious men using murderous methods. Even if Obama might mean that such murderous methods could not be part of a proper religious doctrine per First Amendment standards—this is just plainly wrong. True enough that the murderous parts of a religion would not be protected any more than ingesting peyote or engaging in public animal sacrifices would be (assuming the forbidding law was truly one of neutral applicability), but the outlawing of certain bad “religious” conduct would not rob the religion of First Amendment protection generally. (This is why we have always resisted those who would try and make the argument that Islam—yeah, the violent one—is not a religion but a military, political, legal movement or “ideology.” It is certainly the latter, but it is most definitely also a very serious religion—even if it is an ugly, murderous, and dangerous one).
Now the good professor’s logic is no less valid simply because he tends to choose his polemical targets carefully—indeed, as we noted earlier, we agree with the criticism. What we find, shall we say, curious, is that when one of the most powerful men on the planet speaks to the entire nation, indeed to the entire world, and professes that he knows how to spot the true Islam versus false Islam or even a true religion versus a non-religion by the measure of murder and mayhem that follows in its wake, the good professor’s criticism of such silliness is nowhere to be found. (Yes, we perused his archives since the speech.) But when some Oklahoma state senator professes the same illogic, the Volokh Conspiracy hosted at the Washington Post is all over it. Illogical criticism of Islamic terrorists which denies the terrorists any connection to Islam—silence; illogical criticism of Islam which denies it the mantle of a religion—public criticism. Curious, no?