The House on Friday rejected a controversial GOP proposal identifying “Islamic religious doctrines, concepts or schools of thought” that could be used by terrorist groups — something opponents say is unconstitutional and will lead to the targeting of Muslims.
More than 20 centrist Republicans joined with Democrats to defeated the amendment, 208 to 217. Drafted by conservative Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), the proposal called for the Pentagon to identify Islamic leaders who preach peaceful beliefs versus those who espouse extremist views.
The proposal has drawn heavy criticism from Muslim lawmakers serving in Congress, Muslim interest groups and the American Civil Liberties Union, who say the proposal would unfairly target Muslims. They don’t trust the Trump administration to conduct the analysis.
“If you have an amendment that says we're going to study one religion and only one, we're going to look at their leaders and put them on a list — only them — and you are going to talk about what's orthodox practice and what's unorthodox, then you are putting extra scrutiny on that religion,” said Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), who is Muslim.
Ellison, who met with Franks to try to persuade him to withdraw the proposal, added: “You are abridging the free exercise of that religion. This is the wrong way to do what he's trying to do."
He cheered the amendment's defeat on Friday on Twitter: "Good happens - even in Congress! Franks Amendment singling out Muslims rejected; Congress declines to 'abridge free exercise' of religion."
Franks defended his idea during an interview Thursday evening and said Friday he would work with his colleagues to try to modify it so it will pass eventually.
"Right now, there is a certain spectrum within the Islamist world that is at the root of the ideological impulse for terrorism," Franks said. "Ironically, Muslims are the prime targets of these groups. To suggest that this is anti-Muslim is a fallacy, and I think that anyone who really understands it knows that."
Franks also took issue with Ellison’s suggestion that the amendment infringes on the First Amendment’s protection of religious freedom, pointing out that he is the chairman of the International Religious Freedom Caucus.
"We've worked very hard to protect the religious freedom for everybody," he said. "But it is important that we empower America to identify those heroic Muslims within the world that will help us begin to delegitimize this ideology of global jihad."
The amendment would require the Defense Department to conduct “strategic assessments of the use of violent or unorthodox Islamic religious doctrine to support extremist or terrorist messaging and justification.”
The proposal requires the assessment to identify religious doctrines and concepts that extremists use to recruit potential terrorists, radicalize them and ultimately justify their heinous acts.
It also asks Pentagon officials for “recommendations for identifying key thought leaders or proponents.”
The proposal also requires the Pentagon to identify Islamic schools of though that could be used to counter jihadist views, as well as leaders who are preaching these sorts of doctrines.
Ellison said he understands that Franks wants to “promote national security.” But Ellison said the proposal is “wrongheaded.”