WASHINGTON, Oct. 17 (UPI) -- American ideals embrace the notion of freedom of religion. Our realities can be somewhat different. A recent article distributed by UPI ("Mosques -- Smiling dens of iniquity?" by James Zumwalt) shows that the willingness to promote crass religious stereotypes remains a serious issue.
Anti-Semitism has long been a stain on our national dignity. A U.S. Army manual written for World War I recruits alleged that Jews were more likely to "malinger" than others. Signs could be found around the nation proudly announcing "No dogs. No Jews." Henry Ford, of automotive fame, authored "The International Jew: The World's Foremost Problem."
Anti-Catholic sentiment also has a lengthy history. In his Pulitzer Prize-winning book "Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era", James McPherson reports on suspicion of Catholic immigrants in the 1800s saying: "Most of these new Americans worshipped in Roman Catholic churches. Their growing presence filled some Protestant Americans with alarm. Numerous nativist organizations sprang up as the first line of resistance in what became a long and painful retreat toward acceptance of cultural pluralism."
Thus it comes as no surprise that 37 groups dedicated to spreading anti-Islam prejudice in the United States enjoyed access to at least $119,662,719 in total revenue between 2008 and 2011, according to "Legislating Fear," a new report by the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
CAIR's report says that Islamophobia in the United States has resulted in a certain willingness to undermine the U.S. Constitution.
Article VI of the U.S. Constitution prohibits any "religious test" for public office. However, in 2010 Time reported that "twenty-eight percent of voters do not believe Muslims should be eligible to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court" and that "nearly one-third of the country thinks adherents of Islam should be barred from running for president."
Herman Cain, at one point the front-runner for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination, manifested a version of this sentiment when he said that to serve in his administration he would require loyalty oaths from Muslims.
In 2010 Oklahoma voters approved SQ 755, a state constitutional amendment banning judges in that state from considering Islamic religious principles in their rulings. In practice this would have prohibited a judge from probating an Islamic will. In the voting booth, Oklahomans were told that Islamic religious principles are "based on two principal sources, the Koran and the teaching of Mohammed."
The First Amendment clearly prohibits any such government interference in the free exercise of a religion. For this reason a CAIR staff person in Oklahoma challenged the law in court. In 2013 a federal judge struck the amendment down as unconstitutional.
Oklahoma's bill wasn't unique. In 2011 and 2012, 78 bills or amendments designed to vilify Islamic religious practices were introduced in the legislatures of 29 states and the U.S. Congress. Seventy-three of the bills were introduced solely by Republicans.
Anti-Islam bills are now law in seven states.
There are other indicators that Islamophobia is a societal issue in America.
In September 2011, the Public Religion Research Institute noted, "Forty-seven percent of Americans agree that Islam is at odds with American values, and 48 percent disagree." PRRI later reported that the number of Americans who say Muslims are working to subvert the Constitution rose from 23 percent in February 2012 to 30 percent in September 2012.
While these facts are disconcerting, they are nothing new. Just a Jews, Catholics and others stood up to prejudice, so, too, are Muslims. In fact, Muslims benefit from the lessons these other faith traditions learned in their struggles against prejudice.
America's Muslims also recognize that while the lens of prejudice may be on us today, it will eventually turn elsewhere. We want to make sure our struggle is a benefit to this next group and our nation as a whole.
Our nation has historically evolved for the better. The shame of the three-fifths compromise, by which southern and northern states agreed to count slaves as partial human beings for the purposes of the distribution of taxes and representation in Congress, was removed from the Constitution. Equally, the 15th Amendment and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 are inspiring reminders that our nation evolves. It took until 1920, 144 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, to pass a constitutional amendment granting women the right to vote, but we got there.
For this reason people of conscience must continually remind themselves that the specters of bigotry, discrimination and second-class citizenship are omnipresent.
(Corey Saylor is director of the Department to Monitor and Combat Islamophobia at the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the nation's largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization. He may be reached at 202-742-6413 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)
(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)