Steve Chapman

A recent study by researchers at Duke University and the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill found one reason the number is so low is that "Muslim religious and community leaders ... consistently condemned political violence in public sermons and private conversations."

Palin's position is hard to reconcile with the reverence she and her fans claim to hold for the framers, who gave the highest protection to religious freedom.

Anti-Muslim groups think Islam cannot be tolerated because it is inherently violent and totalitarian. Most Muslims disagree. But what if it were? The First Amendment guarantees the freedom of all faiths, not just the ones that are peaceful and tolerant.

The delegates to the Constitutional Convention had experience with people whose religions were oppressive -- such as 17th century New England Puritans, who executed Quakers for daring to preach in Massachusetts, or Catholics, who burned heretics in Europe. The framers knew religion could be dangerous, and they protected it anyway.

The First Amendment goes beyond protecting mere beliefs. It says, "Congress shall make no law ... prohibiting the free exercise" of religion.

Free exercise includes the right of the faithful to preach, to worship together and to construct buildings for those activities. If the Constitution doesn't allow a ban on churches or synagogues at Ground Zero, it doesn't allow a veto for mosques.

As James Madison wrote, "Whilst we assert for ourselves a freedom to embrace, to profess and to observe the religion which we believe to be of divine origin, we cannot deny an equal freedom to those whose minds have not yet yielded to the evidence which has convinced us."

Palin got grief for saying Muslims should "refudiate" the mosque, which raised questions about her command of English. But the real question is: What part of "no law" does she not understand?

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

©Creators Syndicate