Trump’s Anti-Muslim Tweets at Odds with First Amendment, Leading Faith Groups Charge

December 14, 2017

10 groups join letter to president drafted by Georgetown Law’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection

WASHINGTON – Ten diverse, faith-based organizations, together with Georgetown Law’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection, are warning President Trump that he overstepped critical constitutional protections when he recently retweeted three unverified videos with anti-Muslim captions.

“Under the U.S. Constitution, the government cannot openly denigrate a class of Americans, marking them for special disdain and reproach simply because of who they are,” the groups say in a letter sent to the president today.

On Nov. 29, President Trump retweeted three controversial videos, which were posted by the deputy leader of a far-right British political group with the comments: “Muslim migrant beats up Dutch boy on crutches!”; “Muslim destroys a Statue of Virgin Mary!”; and “Islamist mob pushes teenage boy off roof and beats him to death!”

The letter, signed by Christian, Muslim, Jewish, and Sikh organizations, states: “These tweets sought to draw attention to the misdeeds of Muslims, simply on account of their being Muslims.” By broadcasting this content to his 44 million followers, Trump’s intention was clear and constitutionally concerning, the groups say.

“Your decision to retweet these messages carried a dark and unmistakable message: Muslims are to be feared; Islamic practices pose a danger to society; Muslims can never be truly equal citizens under the law,” the letter reads.

According to the letter, President Trump and his administration have indicated that messages emanating from his @realDonaldTrump Twitter account constitute official statements of the president. The letter further says that, although the government enjoys considerable latitude in deciding what messages to express, Trump’s tweets sit in tension with protections articulated by the Supreme Court in interpreting the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

The letter cites several major cases in which the Court has said government may not display “animus toward religion” or “hostility” toward a particular faith, and furthermore may not “prefer one religion to another.”

The letter implores President Trump to live up to his election-night promise to “be President for all Americans,” while reminding him that the law of the land demands the same. “The Constitution forbids you from conveying the administration’s policy agenda in ways that demean those who worship differently than you,” the letter says.

Joshua Geltzer, Executive Director of Georgetown Law’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection (ICAP), said: “In the future, we urge the President to refrain from using his official perch to share divisive messages that denigrate the religion of any American. We hope that this letter helps the president and those advising him to appreciate the constitutional boundaries that courts have articulated to uphold the First Amendment’s precious guarantees.”

In addition to ICAP, the letter was signed by Avodah; Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd, US Provinces; Emgage Foundation; Franciscan Action Network; Franciscans for Justice; Muslim Advocates; Muslim Public Affairs Council; National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd; National Justice for Our Neighbors; and the Sikh Coalition.

Read the full letter here.