During a town hall held by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) on Sunday, a constituent lauded Bachmann’s anti-Muslim witchhunt about a supposed Muslim Brotherhood infiltration of the U.S. government and called on her congressman to support her efforts. Sensenbrenner instead used the opportunity not only to defend Abedin, but to advocate for the larger notion of religious pluralism in America and a separation between church and state.
The longtime Republican congressman went on to praise the Constitution’s ban on religious tests to hold office, saying Thomas Jefferson’s vision “was right.” When the constituent responded with bigoted accusations about Islam, Sensenbrenner countered: “Religion is a personal issue to every one of the people who lives in the United States…And that has been one of the most cherished freedoms that this country has had since it’s beginning”:
SENSENBRENNER: Let me say that I do know Huma Abedin and I think that the comments that were made about her in that letter, whether or not they were taken out of context, were the wrong thing to do… I think the Constitution in saying that there shall never be a religious test for any office of trust and profit under the United States meant that people should not be judged on the basis of their religious beliefs or lack of religious beliefs. That was Thomas Jefferson that put that in the Constitution — I think he was right.
CONSTITUENT: I think that there’s a political ideology that’s a concern in Islam that is concerning and that should be looked at and we should know that this person is not a threat…
SENSENBRENNER: Heidi, Heidi, Heidi, the First Amendment prohibits the government from making a distinction between what is “good religion” and what is “bad religion.” That’s none of the government’s business. Religion is a personal issue to every one of the people who lives in the United States, whether you practice a faith, how you practice a faith, whether you don’t practice a faith, whether you say you’re a member of a faith but don’t practice it, it’s none of the government’s business. And this is the whole issue of religious freedom. And that has been one of the most cherished freedoms that this country has had since it’s beginning.
Watch highlights of the exchange:
That Sensenbrenner, a dyed-in-the-cloth conservative, would stand up to Islamophobic attacks from constituents and colleagues, is both laudable and heartening. Too often in the past, these voices of reason about Islam and religious freedom are only voiced on the left.
Still, Sensenbrenner isn’t the only Republican put off by Bachmann’s bogus charges. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) was the first to stand up to Bachmann, calling her allegations “nothing less than an unwarranted and unfounded attack on an honorable citizen.” In addition, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-MI) dropped his support for Bachmann’s witchhunt over the weekend.