On Thursday night, Khizr Khan, father of a slain Iraq War hero, delivered a poignant, heartfelt, and personal message to the Democratic National Convention and the millions of viewers watching along. In his speech, he demonstrated, in word and deed, much of what is wrong with the Trump campaign. I will not rehash that here, as it has already been analyzed, dissected, and discussed thoroughly; other than to state that the Khans’ commitment to the principles of this country, as demonstrated by the losses they have suffered on its behalf, make them a laudable example for all Americans. I did, however, want to make two brief observations about what Mr. Khan’s speech signifies.
First, Mr. Khan invoked, to enthusiastic applause, his and his family’s right to freedom of religion as guaranteed to them by the First Amendment. Notwithstanding the fact that he practices a religion – assuming he practices a traditional or conservative form of Islam – that many other Americans would find predicated upon historical inaccuracies; containing backward views on women, gender, and sexuality; and dictating moral and cultural norms contrary to traditional “Western” values; he is as free as anyone else to nevertheless adhere to those views and follow those practices, notwithstanding the desire of someone like Donald Trump to treat him differently for doing so. That his right to so practice his religion freely was celebrated so vocally at the DNC is an encouraging development, given that the left has viewed the First Amendment with suspicion as of late. Of course, I may be giving the DNC too much credit – most people were probably not thinking about the contours and particulars of Islam when they were applauding his speech, and he technically did not mention the First Amendment but rather alluded to the Fourteenth. Nevertheless, this undoubtedly serves as a useful precedent as we continue to debate the meaning and scope of religious liberty as guaranteed by the First Amendment.
Second, I would like to just pause and celebrate the Constitution. Our Framers had the foresight to place a guarantee into the Bill of Rights that would be as relevant as ever over 220 years later; applied to an individual whom the Framers likely did not envision as being the beneficiary of this guarantee when they were drafting and debating it, but who nevertheless benefits from it given how it was drafted. No wonder ours is the oldest functioning constitution in the world. Despite the fact that many on the left have not had too many kind words to say about the document in recent years (some even call for its abolition), it is still going strong – and still defending the rights of minorities so as to ensure (to quote the pledge now) “liberty and justice for all.” The document was not perfect at its enactment, and it still is not perfect; but, in an imperfect world, it sure has proven its worth time and time again. It was great to see the DNC celebrating this fact, whether consciously or only by proxy.
One disappointing takeaway is that Mr. Khan’s rightly celebrated speech served as a reminder that politics is more tribalism than principle. By checking the right identity-politics boxes, he was celebrated at the DNC. Given those same identity-politics forces, I suspect his reception would have been icier at the RNC. And had Mr. Khan been a conservative evangelical or Catholic discussing the importance of religious liberty to themselves and their fallen son, I am certain the reception and response would have been precisely opposite. That much is discouraging. Thankfully, notwithstanding the pettiness of our politics, our Constitution protects the rights of Mr. Khan, and many others like him, to follow the dictates of their conscience and/or their religion, regardless of what other Americans think or feel about it. And that is something that we can all celebrate.