A curious new conservative organization, “Stop the Islamization of America” (SIOA), demonstrates one of the more clever anti-equality tropes we regularly see from the far-right. Move past the classy, blood-spattered logo, and look to the mission statement:
SIOA is a human rights organization dedicated to freedom of speech, religious liberty, and individual rights; no special rights for special classes.
The first clause should be understood to omit a qualifier — “for Christians” — but the second seems baffling. Who, in their view, is receiving “special rights” that they ought not? Presumably Muslims? We see this with gay rights, too, where moves towards marriage, and employee non-discrimination, are read to confer “special” rights, that further stratify society, rather than erase inequalities. Why?
This follows because the far-right operates under a distinct theory about what “rights” we are due. American history, in general, reveals a progression of rights, such that the original compact, conferring set rights on set groups only, was flawed in its application, but perfect in its stated goal of conferring all rights that were due. To vindicate that vision over time, as society changes, we must continue to confer new rights as they are adjudged to flow from identical principles.
Naturally, the right doesn’t see it that way. Under the alternate view, rights aren’t iterations of larger principles, but entitlements that exist in isolation, and admit of no abstraction. Any expansion of rights from the way they existed at the founding, then, is a gift of “special” rights — not “special” as in, as distinct from the rest of the population, but “special” as in “new,” and therefore non-deserved. Putting gays on an equal plane with the rest of the population is definitionally “special,” because only recently have we begun to view sexuality as something immutable, and blameless, even if it just equalizes those groups who should be equal. Characterizing that grant as “special” leverages its novelty to suggest its illegitimacy.
Applying this principle to Muslims is strange, though. At the founding, Muslims did acquire the “special” right to religious freedom, contemporaneously with disfavored Protestant sects, Catholics, Jews, Hindus, etcetera. To view it otherwise, you have to completely disregard the clear statements of numerous founding fathers, and especially Thomas Jefferson. I guess that’s not new, though.