The Virginia Declaration of Rights, a precursor to the Bill of Rights of the United States Constitution, was adopted unanimously by the Virginia Convention of Delegates on June 12, 1776 as part of that state’s first constitution. Its author is considered to be George Mason, but James Madison, at that time a delegate from Orange County and a member of the committee charged with the drafting of a declaration of rights, is known to be the author of Article 16:
“That religion, or the duty which we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason or conviction, not by force or violence; and therefore all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience; and that it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity toward each other.”
This final version adopted by the convention, however, was not Madison’s original draft of the article concerning religion. That, numbered 18 and collected in the Library of America edition of his writings, reads:
“That religion, or the duty which we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence; and therefore, that all men are equally entitled to enjoy the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience, unpunished and unrestrained by the magistrate, Unless the preservation of equal liberty and the existence of the State are manifestly endangered; And that it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity towards each other.”
The redaction of the italicized words, and the subsequent omission of any similar qualifier from the First Amendment, have doubtless forestalled much mischief throughout the history of the republic. But today, “the preservation of equal liberty” is manifestly endangered by the free exercise of a religion – the one whose “general basic principles,” as Bat Ye’or notes in “Islam and Dhimmitude: Where Civilizations Collide,” are, according to the text it holds to be the “eternal, uncreated word” of the Almighty:
“... the pre-eminence of Islam over all other religions (9:33); Islam is the true religion of Allah (3:17) and it should reign over all mankind (34:27); the umma forms the party of Allah and is perfect (3:106), having been chosen above all peoples on earth it alone is qualified to rule, and thus elected by Allah to guide the world (35:37). The pursuit of jihad, until this goal will be achieved, is an obligation (8:40).”
The “eternal, uncreated” Qur’an, moreover, exhorts Muslims to “Fight those who believe not in Allah, nor in the Last Day, nor forbid that which has been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, and those who acknowledge not the religion of truth among the People of the Scripture, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued” (9:29). The 14th century commentator Ibn Kathir, whose views yet carry weight in the Muslim world, interprets “subdued” as “disgraced, humiliated, and belittled. Therefore, Muslims are not allowed to honor the people of Dhimmah or elevate them above Muslims, for they are miserable, disgraced, and humiliated.” (Tasfir Ibn Kathir [Riyadh 2000], cited in “The Legacy of Jihad,” ed. Andrew Bostom, New York: Prometheus Books, 2005).
In view of this decidedly unegalitarian attitude – reconfirmed ad nauseam in Islamic texts and consistently evinced throughout 14 centuries of Islamic comportment toward the world – one could well wish that Madison’s original qualifier or something along its lines had been included in the First Amendment, that the menace posed by a totalitarian religious ideology might receive a condign measure of restraint from those charged with the “preservation of equal liberty” in America. Unhappily, no such restraint is in sight – in fact quite the reverse, as witness the program I describe here.