According to the website for the United States Senate, “Upon taking office, senators-elect must swear or affirm that they will ‘support and defend the Constitution.’” Our elected officials are not only voted upon by people within our state to represent Oklahoma but are also expected to protect and defend rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.
These rights include our right to freely practice our religion without government intrusion through the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. I would go even further and say that no elected official from our state should make any religious group feel as if they are second-class citizens, especially religious minorities.
April 30, Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe took to the Senate floor in Washington, D.C. and alleged that President Obama promotes Islam and suppressed “our Judeo-Christian values.”
If that was not enough, Inhofe further emphasized that our nation was founded under a Christian God. As an Oklahoma Muslim, I felt denigrated by these remarks that reflected a feeling of superiority of one religion over another in the eyes of our U.S. senator. As the director of an Oklahoma-based Muslim civil rights group, I demanded an explanation from our senator on behalf of Oklahomans of all faiths. Below is an excerpt from my letter to Inhofe dated May 1, 2014.
“We are writing to address your April 30, 2014, remarks on the Senate floor that seem to indicate that you believe Islam does not support Judeo-Christian values. We are seeking clarification of your remarks and their implications for American Muslims, particularly the growing Oklahoma Muslim population. Islam is a part of the rich Abrahamic tradition and does not in any way suppress Judeo-Christian values in our country. Furthermore, we do not believe your views represent the views of most Oklahomans. … In recent years we have seen the growth in cooperation amongst the Abrahamic faiths in our state and country, and we fear that your remarks set us back. …
“Your remarks regarding our nation’s founding are also troubling, as our nation was founded on the understanding that America would be home to those of various religious backgrounds. Professor Denise Spellberg writes in her recent publication that our founding fathers intentionally included the concept of religious pluralism when planning for our country’s future: ‘It strikes me that [Thomas] Jefferson was theorizing for a future that included Muslims — not in spite of their religion, but because of it and because of his notion of universal civil rights.’”
Elected officials need to know that we, as citizens of our great state and country, will hold them accountable for their words and actions. As a pluralistic society of diverse cultures, ethnicities and religions, those whom we elect to represent us should also represent the diversity of our society and work to bring us closer together as a people, not further divide us along racial, ethnic, cultural or religious lines.
Soltani is executive director of the Oklahoma Council on American-Islamic Relations.