Religious Intolerance and Minor League Baseball

When I was in sixth grade, my social studies teacher gave us a lesson on the Middle East. We learned about the geography, the culture and the religion of Islam. She told us about Mecca and Medina and the importance of those cities to people of the Muslim faith. We talked about the similarities between Islam and Christianity, namely the monotheistic doctrine, the belief in prophets and the history of holy wars. We learned a little bit about the life of Mohammed and I recall she compared his importance in Islam with that of Moses to the Christians and the Jews.

This lesson has stuck with me because it was my earliest exposure to any religion outside of the Christian faith I was brought up in. The lesson was a mile wide and an inch deep, but this was sixth grade. I credit Ms. Carpenter with opening my eyes to the idea that there is a great big world out there and America is just a piece of it.

I don’t know much more about Islam now than I did then. I know that all religions have their extremists and it was radical Muslims who killed 3,000 people on September 11. It was a radical Christian who blew up the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. It was a radical Sikh who shot at Robert F. Kennedy. It was radical Buddhist monks who set fire to themselves in protest of the Vietnam War. No particular faith has the market cornered on crazy followers.

Murfreesboro has been in the news a lot lately because the local Islamic Center wants to build a new building. They have been in Murfreesboro for years without incident. They followed all the laws, zoning regulations and codes. But, stoked by the hateful rhetoric of some narrow-minded fear mongers in an election year, the new mosque is having some difficulty getting built.

The sign announcing the new site has been vandalized twice, last Friday someone set fire to the construction equipment. Last Saturday shots were fired near the site. Murfreesboro has been my adopted home town for nearly 25 years and I’ve never been more ashamed of it.

I don’t know what’s more disturbing, the acts of hate and destruction or the comments about the crime posted on the Daily News Journal site. The discussion quickly devolved into a flame war that was less about the cowardly act and more about scoring zingers on the regulars who post there. People threw out scripture, quotes from the founding fathers, ugly hate-filled names, dire warnings of terrorist training grounds and impending Sharia law.

That’s an interesting argument I’ve seen repeated over and over. We have to stop these Muslims because they all want to enact Sharia law and force us all to become Muslim. These people are certain that this is coming. They use phrases like “When there is a Muslim majority in America . . .”

It seems to go like this: all Muslims are part of a big plan to take over the world. They start out nice and peaceful, building a little building here or there, smiling for the cameras and paying their taxes. All the while they are building up their numbers, making babies and training them to hate America. Then, just as soon as they have the majority: BOOM! Sharia law! Everyone has to be Muslim or die by scimitar. Oh, it may not happen tomorrow or even in my lifetime, but it will happen.

To stop this from happening, we have to be vigilant and take away their First Amendment rights. That way, they can’t take away our First Amendment rights. See how that works?

Now you can point out how crazy that sounds by noting that the First Amendment means that no one can force Sharia law on you, but they are immune to facts or logic. No, see, when the Muslims have a majority, that First Amendment thing will be the first to go. They point to instances of Sharia law overriding local laws in the British courts. They talk about Judge Joseph Charles not granting a restraining order in New Jersey, Muslim cab drivers who won’t pick up fares with service animals or open liquor containers or Ron Haddah, the police chief in Dearborn, Mich. who arrested four men for speaking about Christianity during an Arab festival.

But if you look at these cases individually, they tell a different story:

Like many religions, Islam has rules regarding marriage, divorce and other aspects of life that are usually adjudicated in civil courts. In Britain, there has been a movement to accommodate the 1.6 million Muslims by allowing them to take these civil matters to a Muslim council, rather than in the British courts. That’s unusual, but not unreasonable. These Muslim councils do not hear cases that put them in direct conflict with British civil courts and only adjudicate cases with the agreement of all parties. They mostly handle marriage, divorce and occasionally property disputes. Again, unusual, but not unreasonable and virtually no chance that Sharia law would override a British court’s ruling.

Judge Charles denied the restraining order citing the husband believed he was following his religion and that his wife must submit. This was  a mistake and his decision was overturned by an appeals court which granted the restraining order. The American judicial system won out.

The same people who decry Muslim cabbies who won’t pick up people with animals aren’t decrying pharmacists who won’t dispense birth control. Is the principle the same or isn’t it? If a Muslim cabbie wants to give up income in the name of his religion, there is no law that says cab drivers have to pick up everyone who flags them down.

Back in June, four Christian evangelists were arrested in Dearborn, Mich. for disorderly conduct. They say they went to the festival to engage Muslims in dialogue about their religion and to talk about the differences between Christianity and Islam. A local Christian minister named Pastor Haytham Abi-Haydar, however, said they were intimidating festival attendees with their video cameras and that he has been setting up a booth inside the festival since 1999 without incident.

I support the local Muslim community in their efforts to build their mosque. I supported the local Christians when they built those giant brick piles on Thompson Lane and North Rutherford Blvd. I support the almost continual expansion of the World Outreach Church on 99, which requires two sheriff’s deputies to get everyone in and out of the parking lot each week.

Everyone in America gets to worship their own religion. That’s what the Constitution says. To act any other way is to lose faith in the American ideal. To stir up fear and hate for political gain or to commit acts of violence and intimidation to suppress the expression of religion is un-American. It really is as simple as this: do you believe in the Constitution or don’t you?

The family and I attended the final home game of the Greeneville Astros last weekend. It was the largest crowd they’d had all season and they lost to the Kingsport Mets 6-4. It was even more tragic for Max who had a hankering for Cracker Jacks. You’d think that if there was any place in the world to buy Cracker Jacks it would be at a Minor League Baseball game. But this being the last home game of the season, the concession stands weren’t fully stocked. So, no Cracker Jacks.

“No Cracker Jacks!” he yelled. “But it’s in the freaking song!”

This disappointed him in a way that can only be felt by a 12-year-old boy. He was profoundly and completely dejected. It did not help that, due to it being “Dollar Dog Night” at Pioneer Park, the lines were very long and slow-moving. We stood in line at two different stands only to be disappointed. I missed a couple of innings and became a bit perturbed at Max’s attitude. He apologized the next day for his sullenness, but that night, he couldn’t see around his anger to how his behavior was affecting the rest of us.

It is somewhat unfortunate that Max was born with his father’s sharp tongue and sarcastic nature. I try to warn him that it won’t help him in the areas of life where it really matters: getting girls and making friends. But what do I know? I’m just an old man who’s been through it all before.

Finally, it is DragonCon week and I’m very excited. I will be tweeting about it regularly, so if you want to follow along as I wade neck-deep into the nerdfest that is DragonCon, follow @jutopia on Twitter.