Sunday, January 29, 2017
Brookdale welcomes students of all religions, or no religion, openly and without favor.
It’s right to do so. It will continue to do so.
Until very recently, I didn’t consider that a partisan or controversial statement. I thought it both obvious and widely accepted. It’s rooted in the Bill of Rights and the Fourteenth amendment, in decades of historical practice, and in the mission of the institution.
Mr. Trump is forcing a gut check.
Senator Murphy, from Connecticut, tweeted on Sunday that he will introduce a bill to override Mr. Trump’s executive order banning Muslims from certain countries from entering America.
Good. Let’s have a roll call vote in both chambers. I want to know where each and every Representative and Senator stands. By name. If they’re unable to muster enough votes to override the inevitable veto, I want to know who stood in the way.
I have asked my own Representative (Chris Smith, R-NJ) for his position; so far, no answer.
This should not be a partisan issue. It shouldn’t even be a divisive one. It shouldn’t be any harder than declaring that freedom is good and tyranny is bad. As Governor Mike Pence noted on Twitter in 2015, a Muslim ban would be offensive and unconstitutional. Governor Pence was right.
Academics are known for responding to current events by “teaching the controversy.” There’s certainly room for that. I remember being struck, when I read John Locke’s “Letter Concerning Toleration” (1689), that he was more afraid of Catholics than of Muslims. (He advocated religious freedom for everyone except Catholics and atheists; he argued that the former owed allegiance to a foreign prince, and the latter couldn’t be trusted when nobody was looking.) Let’s take a good hard look at the Virginia Statute on Religious Liberty, and at the Alien and Sedition Acts. Let’s study the history of “America First!,” of the Know-Nothing Party, of the internment camps. While we’re at it, let’s look at the movements for equality over the years, too.
America is at its best when it’s at its most inclusive. It’s not always at its best, but its best moments share a theme.
That inclusiveness is what makes community colleges uniquely American. In fact, other countries now are starting to emulate them. They’re models for what it means to take equality and fairness so seriously as values that you instantiate them in brick and mortar.
Students and faculty won’t be able to do their best work in a climate of fear. The international student and faculty presence at Brookdale enriches the experience for everyone. It keeps us honest. It’s worth defending.
Let’s have that roll call vote. Those of us who care about religious freedom will be watching.