This week, we have witnessed two events in which the Taliban and extreme U.S. religious believers have each sought to impose their worldview on others—one in Pakistan, and one in the United States. The U.S. incident is a reminder of the need for the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, which keeps such groups from controlling the government. The incident in Pakistan, in turn, is a reminder of the need for the rule of law, both international and domestic, and especially the need for all countries to protect civil rights. Both instances involve children.
In Pakistan, a young teenager was shot for not parroting a religious line; here in the U.S., an organization opposes having children sit at lunch with other children, because the others may be homosexual and the organization believes that God’s absolute truth disapproves of homosexuals. There are important parallels to be drawn between these two seemingly disparate situations, as I will explain.
The Taliban Uses Deadly Weapons to Bully Fourteen-year-old Malala Into Silence
Recently, in Pakistan, fourteen-year-old Malala Yousufzai was shot by the Taliban for simply saying that girls should be educated. Malala is now in critical condition in a British hospital. The Taliban has threatened to finish her off to silence her blasphemy of girl empowerment, while, hearteningly, thousands in Pakistan have demonstrated to support her.
The obvious enemy here is the Taliban, a fanatical religious sect that seeks to impose its brutal regime wherever it can. It believes its imams hold the sole truth of the Koran, and that the world requires the imposition of their rule. All those who differ are subjected to the same judgment: death. Malala is just the most recent person to challenge their worldview. They have had no compunction about killing Christians and other Muslims. Let’s not use euphemisms: This is not “false religion.” It is a true religion, and as we know from history, it is not uncommon for religious fanatics to use violence to impose their universe on others. The imams who are in power are in fact threatened by Malala, and they have no persuasive argument to sway her to their side, so, in their god’s name, they resort to guns.
Why are they threatened by this female teenager? Because education-empowered women challenge their stranglehold on justice and redemption. Shooting to kill Malala was a necessary pre-emptive move in their religious hearts. Education threatens their presumed hold on absolute religious truth.
The Taliban leads the world on religious bullying at the moment, and deserves all that the Pakistani army has in its arsenal. Malala, in turn, deserves the civilized world’s protection, and a torrent of words from all of us to drown the Taliban’s “truth.”
The American Family Association Comes Out in Favor of Bullying Homosexuals
While Malala is recovering from her wounds, it is worth remarking, too, that a less violent, but also troubling development has happened here in the United States. It is related, because it is all about bullying, and the ways of religious groups who believe they, and only they, have access to absolute truth.
In the Fall, many schools across the U.S. host “Mix It Up at Lunch Day.” On that day, students are assigned seats at lunch, so that cliques are broken up, and kids become acquainted with other kids whom they might not otherwise have gotten to know. The assignments are intended to reduce bullying by giving faces and voices to those who are different from those in a teen’s usual circle. As we all know, it is much harder to vilify someone with whom you have had a conversation. In my view, celebrating this day is a genius move to increase peace, educate students, and foster tolerance in our wildly diverse society. Every school should do it.
The American Family Association (AFA), though, is opposed to this anti-bullying event, because it sees the event as a pro-homosexual activity that “normalizes” homosexuals—as if that were a bad thing. The AFA is calling it an “LGBT mixer” and “gay plot” that promotes “the homosexual menace.” This rhetoric might at first seem laughable, of course, but in the end, it is not funny at all. Sadly, some misguided schools actually cancelled Mix It Up at Lunch Day following the AFA’s public relations push against the event.
Let me pause here for a moment so that we can follow the AFA’s logic on Mix It Up at Lunch Day: The AFA is anti- anti-bullying. Anyone who has learned rudimentary math knows that a negative of a negative is a positive, so the AFA has come out as in favor of bullying. And whom do they think their believers should be able to bully? Homosexuals.
The Key Parallel Between the Two Incidents, in Pakistan and in the U.S.
Who is the AFA, and what does this have to do with Malala and the Taliban? The AFA is a religious nonprofit operating here in the United States, which is classified by the highly respected Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group.
This is the AFA’s online “Philosophical Statement”:
“The American Family Association believes that God has communicated absolute truth to mankind, and that all people are subject to the authority of God’s Word at all times. Therefore AFA believes that a culture based on biblical truth best serves the well-being of our nation and our families, in accordance with the vision of our founding documents; and that personal transformation through the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the greatest agent of biblical change in any culture.”
That’s right: The AFA is another group that believes that its members have the “absolute truth” at their disposal, and that it should be able to impose its “truth” on those it seeks to marginalize. For the Taliban, it is women. For the AFA, on this issue, it is homosexuals. For both, the underlying force is the fear that those who previously were sidelined and weak will become empowered, and will then undermine the religious group’s power.
The Taliban sought, and still seeks, to silence Malala so that they do not have to hear her voice, or see her impertinent face, again. The AFA seeks to shield children from having to even talk or sit next to those children whom the AFA demonizes. They want homosexual children to be invisible and unknown.
The Vital Role of the First Amendment In Keeping Peace Among the U.S.’s Various Religions and Religious Groups
These two events are all about intolerance, to be sure, but they also share a deeper connection: They reveal, once again, that religious groups seek power, as all other human groups do, and, unless we stand up for the powerless among us, these groups will bully them until they defeat them.
Here in the U.S., the First Amendment—thanks to both its Religion and Speech Clauses—has established a peaceful country of extraordinary diversity. The Taliban members who shot Malala, despite being religious, would be prosecuted to the full extent of the law had they done so in the United States. The First Amendment is responsible for our vigorous, but largely peaceful disputes. In our public schools, children of every faith learn how to sit with and talk to each other. These aspects of our society are critical to the continuation of our peaceful coexistence in the midst of such religious diversity.
How have we achieved this remarkable peace amidst diversity? The First Amendment, that’s how. The AFA, as a private actor, has the right, under the First Amendment’s Free Speech Clause, to spew its hate-filled “truth” in the media and online, but, thankfully, due to the Establishment Clause, it cannot impose its religious worldview on the children in our public schools.
Speaking as a private person, and not the government, I pray that God blesses Malala as she recovers so that her prophetic voice is heard again, and that all of the children in the United State are encouraged to share a meal with any other child.