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The Use of Religious Pat-Down: Increased Security or Violation of Freedom of Religion?

June 5th, 2016

The Statue of Liberty

One of the core tenets of the United States of America is freedom of religion.

Other areas of the world have dealt with religion-based terrorist attacks on their soil long before the United States entered the stage begrudgingly in 2001. Since the attacks on New York, our country has been fighting terrorism around the globe in a constant struggle to keep our nation safe from the plots of zealots whose only goal is to tear down what we have built. This struggle has in recent years hit home in ways undreamed of for generations of Americans. The attacks in Boston and more recently in California by individuals who fully enjoyed the protections and benefits of American society, including freedom of religion, have left many of us reeling and asking questions that do not have simple answers. One such question is “how do we protect against this happening again?”

Non-Religious “Stop-and-Frisk”

The New York Police Department was lambasted by news agencies and critics after its stop and frisk policy was declared unconstitutional in 2013. The policy did not cease to exist, but was reformed and many are now questioning whether the reformation is directly linked to the recent upsurge in crime seen by the city. What many people may not realize is that it was not the policy itself that was found to be unconstitutional, but the manner in which it was being employed. The concerns of the federal court that found the policy unconstitutional determined that the NYPD’s use of stop and frisk was far too subjective and had a discriminatory impact on racial minorities. Essentially, officers were abusing stop and frisk by racially profiling young African American and Latino men for something as benign as standing alone or even being present in a “high crime area.” The reformed policy now requires officers to have a “minimal level of objective justification” to stop and frisk a citizen.

Religious Motivation

The issue of stop and frisk has come up again in recent dialogues over the terrorist attacks in France, as more information about the attacks have now led leaders to believe that the perpetrators entered the country disguised as Syrian refugees. Some presidential candidates have suggested that we employ a sort of religious screening process before allowing access to any more refugees fleeing the Middle East. They argue that the United States should immediately employ screening techniques which would allow Christian refugees entry while leaving Muslim refugees to languish at entry points or be sent back from whence they came.

What these applicants for our nation’s highest office may not realize, however, is that our Constitution is not written in a way that allows for such a filter. In fact, its tenets (those that make us American at our core) provide protection against this sort of government action based solely on religious beliefs. One question they may wish to consider before pushing the argument further is whether their policy will stand the scrutiny of the courts if one city’s policy has already been declared unconstitutional as applied? Furthermore, a question worth asking is “where is the middle ground that will protect us as citizens while still preserving the ideals that are at the core of our national identity?”

Watchful Eyes

As the growing refugee crisis and discussions over terrorism in the United States continue, the Universal Life Church will monitor any movement in the courts of cases involving these highly sensitive issues. Above all, our mission is to ensure that the principles of religious freedom as described in our Constitution are not unlawfully restricted merely because of fear that has no basis in fact.

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