Religious liberty is at risk in the United States today. Rep. Peter King (R-NY), chair of the House Homeland Security Committee will hold a hearing on Thursday to explore the issue of the radicalization of Muslims here in the United States. While this might appear to be a legitimate national security concern, Rep. King’s history and previous statements raise serious questions about his intent.
Civil rights groups, religious leaders, and other minority religious communities have expressed concerns about these hearings. A prominent Baptist ethicist, Dr. David Gushee, wrote an op-ed piece in USA Today this week, voicing concern that “hearings on Muslims could harm us all.” Gushee contends that King’s hearings “threaten the perceived legitimacy of any practice of Islam in the United States, therefore risking one of our most fundamental liberties — freedom of religion.”
Why do Gushee and others see a threat to religious liberty here? Congressional hearings have two purposes. First, televised hearings draw media attention to issues of interest to Congress and to the American public. The McCarthy anti-Communist hearings of the 1950s, and the Watergate hearings of the 1970s are two of the best examples. Televised hearings create a political opportunity to make a public point. But, secondly, congressional hearings often precede legislation aimed at solving the problem spotlighted by the hearings.