Michael Flynn, former national security advisor in the Trump administration, is back in the news this weekend with another startling declaration. While speaking at the “Rewaken America” rally, Flynn declared “If we are going to have one nation under God, which we must, we have to have one religion.” It is a deeply offensive and frankly unAmerican viewpoint. This country was founded (and has been defended) by people of many religions. Arlington cemetery has Christian, Jews, Muslim, and other faiths represented on the tombstones of those who gave the final measure of devotion to this country and its freedoms, including the freedom of religion. Thomas Jefferson famously declared “It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no God.”
The posted clip is short and does not include the full context of Flynn’s remarks, which seem to include a discussion from Matthew in the Bible:
Flynn was pummeled by prosecutors to the point of bankruptcy and subjected to serious errors in prosecutorial and judicial misconduct for years. Despite my criticism of his prosecution, however, some of us noticed a rise of unhinged and undemocratic rhetoric from the former national security adviser. This includes comments that appeared to call for a military coup.
The comment about religion is equally reckless and hopefully Flynn will publicly correct it.
In any correction or clarification, Flynn would be wise to incorporate the words of Thomas Jefferson (who famously translated his personal copy of the Koran):
“The subject of religion, a subject on which I have ever been most scrupulously reserved, I have considered it as a matter between every man and his maker, in which no other, and far less the public had a right to inter-meddle.”
Jews fought in our revolution including Colonel Mordecai Sheftall and possible Brigadier general Moses Hazen (though his religion is still a matter of debate). The role of the Jewish community was honored by George Washington in a letter on August 17, 1790 to the Sephardic congregation of Newport, Rhode Island:
May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in the land continue to merit and enjoy the goodwill of the other inhabitants. While everyone shall sit safely under his own vine and fig-tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.
In the War of 1812, Sapelo Island in Georgia was defended against a British attack by a group of 80 slaves, including their leader Bilali Muhammad, who were mostly Muslim.
Since that time, Jews, Muslim, and people of other faiths have fought with distinction in every war and helped transform this country. The same is true of many atheists, including the hero Pat Tillman. Indeed, some believe that Jefferson himself may have been an atheist.
I do not doubt that Flynn recognizes the contribution of such heroes of other faiths or atheists to our country. Moreover, in fairness, Flynn did not say that we should impose one religion. He clearly believes that Christianity is the one true faith and may have just been saying that everyone should embrace a faith in Jesus. However, that does not change the reckless and insulting meaning suggested by his words.
This country was based on the rejection of the “one religion” model. Indeed many of the colonists fled nations with such religious intolerance. Even with our guarantees of separation of church and state, such rhetoric can easily lead to sectarian divisions and even violence. That point was made by the great Edmund Burke who declared “Religious persecution may shield itself under the guise of a mistaken and overzealous piety.”
This is why we took a different path and embraced the concept of E pluribus unum — “Out of many, one.”