On June 26th, the Supreme Court upheld President Trump’s Muslim Ban and once again, the Muslim communities were at the center of a fierce debate over religious freedom in America. But according to historian Denise Spellberg, this is nothing new.
In 1786, Thomas Jefferson authored the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom as a strong statement about religious freedom and the principles behind the separation of church and state. According to Ms. Spellberg, Jefferson mentioned Muslims when describing the broad scope of protections he intended. “What he wanted to do was get the state of Virginia out of the business of deciding which was the best religion, and who had to pay taxes to support it,” says Ms. Spellberg, author of Thomas Jefferson’s Qur’an: Islam and the Founders.
Ms. Spellberg continues that in the formation of the “American ideal and principals” of our country, Muslims were often discussed in the hypothetical to show “how far tolerance and equal civil rights extends… Muslims were, at the beginning, the litmus test for whether the reach of American constitutional principles would include every believer, every kind, or not.”