“Should refugees have religious freedom?” is now a serious question in the Republican primary

Following the Islamic State’s coordinated attacks in Paris on Friday, blame became a highly-traded commodity. Within hours, conservatives had tied the attacks to everything from Obama to gun control to safe spaces on college campuses to, perhaps most frequently, Syrian refugees and Europe’s openness to them — without any evidence that the attackers had entered the country as refugees in the first place. At least three of the eight attackers were French nationals.

But that didn’t stop Jeb Bush, and then Ted Cruz — both self-described defenders of “religious freedom” — from saying that what these attacks really show is that we need to apply a religious test for incoming refugees. And it isn’t enough that we screen out Muslims; we have to screen for Christians.

As Bush said on CNN’s State of the Union Sunday morning, “We should focus our efforts as it relates to refugees on the Christians that are being slaughtered.”

Ted Cruz, via DonkeyHotey / Flickr

Ted Cruz, via DonkeyHotey / Flickr

Cruz went a step further, telling reporters in South Carolina that, “There is no meaningful risk of Christians committing acts of terror. If there were a group of radical Christians pledging to murder anyone who had a different religious view than they, we would have a different national security situation.” Therefore, he said, we should close the border to Syrian refugees, and instead only leave it open to Christians displaced by the country’s civil war.

The AP is reporting that Alabama plans on doing exactly that.

Finally, Marco Rubio finally went there this morning when he compared Muslims to Nazis, saying on ABC’s The Week that Hillary Clinton’s avoidance of the term “radical Islam” during Saturday night’s debate is, “like saying we weren’t at war with Nazis, because we were afraid to offend some Germans who may have been members of the Nazi Party but weren’t violent themselves.” Rubio’s comments are in keeping with the Republican Party’s insistence that President Obama’s insistence on separating the Islamic State’s violent extremism from its religion is one of the reasons why he hasn’t been able to defeat it.

While all of these religious talking points play well with voters who seem to genuinely believe that if our president says “radical Islamic terrorism” into their mirror three times before going to bed, Ronald Reagan’s ghost comes back and tells Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi to “tear down this caliphate,” they mean nothing when it comes to actually preventing violent people from entering the United States. I trust that Bush, Cruz and Rubio are all aware that the United States already has a rather rigorous screening process for refugees. It takes between 18 and 24 months for a refugee to be granted entry to our country because every refugee admitted to the county must complete the following:

  • Multiple high-level security checks
  • Biometric screening
  • A mandatory interview with the Department of Homeland Security
  • A medical screening
  • A cultural orientation program (which consists of videos on housing, employment, education, and hygiene, among other topics)

Adding a sixth bullet point there to include a religious test isn’t going to make that process any more difficult, in no small part due to the fact that a great number of Muslim refugees — from Syria and elsewhere — are already converting to Christianity in hopes that it will increase their chances of asylum in Europe. As converting to another faith makes one an apostate, a refugee can credibly claim that they would face persecution upon returning home. So setting aside how difficult it would be to impose a literal religious test on Syrian refugees should we insist on having them take one, it would only create an incentive for refugees to convert for purely secular reasons. What’s more, it wouldn’t make it any more difficult than it already is for an Islamic State militant to go through the process. They’d just claim to be Christian and *poof* it’s suddenly more okay to let them in.

Ted Cruz (and two other Republican presidential candidates) recently attended a conference hosted by a man who sincerely believes that gay people should be executed in public, making his assertion that, “If there were a group of radical Christians pledging to murder anyone who had a different religious view than they, we would have a different national security situation” patronizing and odd, to say the least. I’d say I was curious to know what this self-described “constitutional conservative” thought about screening for Christian refugees violating the Establishment Clause, as it clearly endorses one religion over the rest, but Cruz’s previous insistence that non-believers aren’t qualified to be president told me all I need to know on that front.

We’re at that point following a major terror attack where we have to look inward and decide how we, as a culture, are going to respond. If the Republican candidates are any indication, this could very easily turn ugly.

Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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