Following the attack in Nice that killed at least 84 people, former House speaker Newt Gingrich has called for deporting everyone in America with a Muslim background who believes in sharia law.
“Western civilization is in a war. We should frankly test every person here who is of a Muslim background and if they believe in sharia they should be deported,” Gingrich told Fox News’ Sean Hannity.
“Sharia is incompatible with western civilization. Modern Muslims who have given up sharia — glad to have them as citizens. Perfectly happy to have them next door,” he added. Further, he said: “Anybody who goes on a website favoring ISIS or al Qaeda or other terrorist groups, that should be a felony, and they should go to jail. Any organization which hosts such a website should be engaged in a felony. It should be closed down immediately.”
Gingrich also said that the attack in Nice is the “fault of Western elites who lack the guts to do what is right, to do what is necessary,” and suggested that mosques in America need to be monitored.
Gingrich’s proposal, which made no distinction between U.S. citizens and noncitizen, would violate scores of First and Fourteenth Amendment-based Supreme Court rulings and laws that together bar discriminating on the basis of religion, favoring one religion over another by the government and restricting freedom of expression and and belief.
Specifically the First Amendment reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
In addition, the Supreme Court has ruled that the government has no power to strip people of their citizenship, which would be necessary to deport anyone who is a citizen.
Apart from that, there are an estimated 3.3 million Muslims in the U.S., according to a recent Pew Research survey who, by Gingrich’s proposal, would have to take his “test.”
Nor is there any evidence suggesting a link between a “belief in Sharia” law and acts of terror in the U.S.
“Look, the first step is you have to ask them the questions,” said Gingrich. “The second step is you have to monitor what they’re doing on the internet. The third step is — let me be very clear — you have to monitor the mosques. I mean, if you’re not prepared to monitor the mosques, this whole thing is a joke.”
Gingrich has been mentioned as a potential vice-presidential running mate with Donald Trump, who after the Nice attack called off an announcement of his choice originally scheduled for Friday. Gingrich’s suggestion goes beyond anything suggested even by Trump, who has called for a moratorium on Muslim migration.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations condemned the attack in Nice as well as Gingrich’s call to “test” and deport Muslims in the United States.
“When former House speaker Newt Gingrich suggests that American Muslims be subjected to Inquisition-style religious test and then expelled from their homes and nation,” CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awaid said, “he plays into the hands of terror recruiters and betrays the American values he purports to uphold.”
In 2014, at a terrorism conference in New York, FBI Director James B. Comey downplayedthe roles of mosques in connection with terrorism.
“I actually don’t see religious institutions as a central feature of recruitment in the United States,” he said. “I see it increasingly as an online phenomenon without center, which makes it very difficult for us.”
People attracted to terrorism “can get all they need on the Internet,” Comey said.
In the recent terror at attack in Orlando, Comey has said that the shooter was radicalized online.
Following Gingrich’s comments, sharia started trending in the United States on Twitter.
Gingrich also alluded to the long debated “Clash of Civilizations” debate during his interview on Fox News: “These people are opposed to our way of life, they are opposed to our value system, they are opposed to our various religions, they are opposed to the whole concept of freedom …” he said.
The comments made by Gingrich are similar to ones made by Donald Trump in 2015, when he called for surveillance of mosques.
The former speaker of the House wants to expel anyone who believes in sharia, a stance that misunderstands both the Constitution and Islamic faith.
Newt Gingrich effectively called for the deportation of all practicing Muslims from the United States Thursday night. His suggestion, which would almost certainly be unconstitutional, represents perhaps the most sweeping call for a religious test proposed by a mainstream political figure over the last few years, which have seen a strong backlash against Islam.
“Let me be as blunt and direct as I can be. Western civilization is in a war. We should frankly test every person here who is of a Muslim background, and if they believe in sharia, they should be deported,” Gingrich said on Fox News. “Sharia is incompatible with Western civilization. Modern Muslims who have given up Sharia—glad to have them as citizens. Perfectly happy to have them next door.”
Gingrich continued by saying that anyone who visited a website associated with ISIS or Al-Qaeda should be prosecuted as a felon.
Gingrich has a tendency to speak off the cuff, often saying outrageous things, so it’s hard to tell how considered the comment was. But it represents a grave misunderstanding of both the First Amendment and “sharia,” an oft-blurred term.
On the first count, it’s hard to imagine Gingrich’s suggestion passing anything resembling constitutional muster. Presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump has advocated for a ban on Muslims entering the United States, and legal opinions diverge on that; some scholars believe that such a prohibition might be upheld in courts, based on immigration laws. What Gingrich is suggesting is radically different. He would not only change who the United States allows in; he would apparently seek to deport those already resident, including perhaps American citizens, “of a Muslim background,” and he would do so on the basis of a religious test, despite the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom to practice religion. (Would Anglo-Saxon or African American converts to Islam be spared?)
Such an approach would also be difficult to enforce. What would prevent a believer from simply lying? As many an anti-Islam campaigner has pointed out, Shia Islam grants believers a dispensation to conceal their faith in the face of persecution. In some cases—the Spanish Inquisition comes to mind—elaborate tests have been devised to sniff our secret Muslims and Jews, but those tests were both unscientific and obviously brutal; and even so small colonies of Muslims persisted in Spain, perhaps as late as the 1980s.
Are there any precedents for this in American history? The common parallel cited is the internment of Japanese Americans at the start of World War II, an incident that has been widely regarded as black mark on the nation’s history, if one that Trump has cautiously defended. But even that ban was based on ethnicity tied to a nation with which the U.S. was at war, not a religious identity spanning the globe.
Gingrich’s suggestion also represents a common if serious misunderstanding of sharia. “Sharia” is often used as a shorthand for radical Islamism, but Gingrich shows the limitation of that approach. To suggest that Muslims are acceptable as long as they don’t believe in sharia is a little like saying Christians are OK as long as they don’t believe the Gospel. In other words, any practicing Muslim believes in sharia. It’s simply a code of behavior and law in the religion, just as in any other religion. And just as there are Christians whose religious beliefs run the gamut from casual belief and church attendance on Christmas and Easter to those who commit violence and murder in the name of their religion, there is a range of Muslim beliefs that fit under the rubric of sharia. Might a reasonable Christian disavow someone like Eric Rudolph, insisting he represented a perversion or misunderstanding of what Jesus taught? Of course. But then most American Muslims would (and do) say the same of Islamist terrorists.
Gingrich’s latest comments are related to things he’s said before. In 2006, for example—at a dinner celebrating the First Amendment, no less!—the former House speaker argued that freedom of speech needed to be reconsidered in light of the threat of terrorism. Gingrich spoke out against the so-called Ground Zero Mosque, a proposed Islamic center in lower Manhattan, and he has advocated for banning the use of sharia in American courts. My colleague Conor Friedersdorf in 2012 rounded up some of Gingrich’s comments about Islam and Muslims, arguing that if they had been made about any other religious group, Gingrich would have been drummed out of polite circles.
But the idea of deporting any believing Muslims, including apparently U.S. citizens, is a major leap. It puts him well beyond even Trump, who previously said he might support a registry for Muslims but was unable to explain how such a registry would differ from Nazi Germany’s policies toward Jews. Gingrich has been said to be a top contender to be Trump’s running mate, but on Thursday it began to appear that Trump would instead choose Indiana Governor Mike Pence. In the wake of the Nice attacks, Trump postponed his announcement, which had been planned for Friday morning. Should he decide the attacks demand a more bellicose, anti-Islam vice-presidential candidate, Gingrich has made the case for himself.