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When freedom of religion doesn't apply to all

For some, freedom of religion means freedom to be Christian, but not Muslim or any other religion they find offensive. They don't see discrimination of Muslims in the United States as a freedom of religion issue the way they do when Christians are discriminated against.

When Republicans call President Barack Obama a Muslim, they are using the name of someone else's religion in a derogatory way. They know that Obama is Christian.

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When GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson says that a Muslim should not be President of the United States, he is discriminating against people based upon their religion and he stands against true religious freedom in America.

Ahmed Mohamed, the young boy arrested in Texas for bringing a clock he made to school is an example of treating someone differently based upon skin color and religion. If Mohamed had a Christian name and was white, I doubt the police would have been called or that he would have been arrested after they arrived. The police have admitted that they knew it was not a bomb, but arrested him anyway. The school knew by the end of the day that his digital clock was not a bomb, but decided to maintain the boy's three-day suspension.

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Perhaps Mohamed is too smart for the people of Texas. After all, many of them don't believe in evolution, climate change, or that the President of the United States was born in the United States. Their leading presidential candidates incorrectly believe that vaccines cause autism. So they are not a very smart group and I can understand how a dark-skinned, young boy with a strange sounding name might be threatening to them. Ignorance is the number one variable related to fear and when we act out of ignorance and fear, we make stupid mistakes.

While all of this is going on in Texas, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who is also running for the Republican nomination for president, sent an open letter to CNN about religious freedom and the Pope's visit to Cuba and the United States. "Here, [the Pope] will find people who are uniquely free. We have been an exceptional country because, here, people are free to practice their faiths and worship God. Government's role in society is to protect these rights and ensure that we are safe from religious persecution and discrimination," wrote Rubio.

Well, maybe not in Texas, and maybe not if you are a Muslim.

"Our brave men and women have made many sacrifices in just wars to defeat the forces of evil. We have exported our greatest values: freedom and opportunity, which have lifted millions out of poverty," Rubio wrote to the Pope.

Yes, indeed, the U.S. has done many wonderful things around the world, especially during and after World War II. But since then we have exported an unnecessary war to Iraq, tortured people in secret camps in violation of our own national values and in violation of international law, and inspired the organization of new forces of evil as an unintended consequence of our foreign policy recklessness. I'm sure Pope Francis will be able to see the entire picture of our actions around the world and not just the rosy universe Rubio imagines. I look forward to his comments.

"In Cuba," writes Rubio, "his Holiness won't find a government that protects its people and their God-given rights. Instead, he will find a regime that oppresses people and hinders progress. He will meet with a regime that is solely responsible for the Cuban people's plight over the past 56 years."

Actually, the embargo of Cuba for the past 50 years by the United States has played a significant role in the plight of the Cuban people today. And before Rubio goes talking about Cuba's oppressive government that hinders progress, perhaps he should look to our House of Representatives where progress in addressing climate change, woman's rights, health care and educational funding is hindered on a regular basis. Rubio need not look to Cuba for examples of a government that does not always "protects is people and their God-given rights."

Rubio writes: "I pray the Pope can use his moral authority to inspire true religious freedom, and bring us closer to the day when freedom can finally take root [in Cuba]."

I agree and hope the Pope says the same prayer for America so that all people, regardless of their religion, can experience, as Rubio writes, "true religious freedom." Then, perhaps, someday a boy named Ahmed Mohamed can grow up to be President of the United States.

Tom Zirpoli writes from Westminster. His column appears Wednesdays. He is the Laurence J. Adams endowed chair of special education and coordinator of the human services management graduate program at McDaniel College. Email him at tzirpoli@mcdaniel.edu.

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