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{Published in the October 21, 2011 print edition of the Colorado Springs Gazette, also available here.}

(The following letter is fiction intended to make a point. I have never met the Sultan of Brunei, although I look forward to the opportunity to engage with him and like-minded individuals on church-state issues).

To: Dr Barry Fagin, c/o the Colorado Springs Gazette

From: His Majesty Hassanal Bolkiah, Sultan of Brunei

Dear Dr. Fagin,

I bring you greetings in the name of Allah and his Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. I write to ask your assistance in a noble cause. I have been told your public schools need money. With that in mind, I wish to pay for all school buses in your city.

It is not right that America’s parents worry about getting their children to and from school. Nor is it right that America’s children not know the joy of Islam as dictated to Muhammad in the Holy Quran, the last true revelation of God. By righting both these wrongs, I can ensure that public resources are freed up to help needy children of Colorado Springs.

This commitment will require millions of dollars of my personal fortune. But Allah has commanded me to do this, and the essence of my faith is submission to the will of Allah. I hope, in time, that more of America’s children will learn of the bliss that comes from submission to Allah’s will.

In exchange for such generous financial support, I ask only one thing: That verses from the Holy Quran be prominently displayed on every school bus in Colorado Springs.

It is my understanding that you have something called a Constitution, and a Supreme Court that interprets it. My advisers tell me these institutions prevent American religious organizations from doing similar things. Fortunately, my country has no such restrictions.

Can you refer me to the officials in your town who can assist me in carrying out this worthy endeavor? Thank you very much.


Hassanal Bolkiah, Sultan of Brunei

Your Majesty,

Thank you for contacting me. You are indeed correct that education in Colorado Springs faces funding challenges. In these tough economic times, all of us must make hard choices. Such things are often difficult, and we appreciate the thoughtfulness of anyone willing to help.

However, I can confidently say that such offers as yours would not go over well in our city.

Our community has been vigorously debating the proper relationship among religion, government, and charity. The cadet command structure at our Air Force Academy, for example, initially endorsed a Christian charity that helps Islamic countries in exchange for being allowed to share the One True Faith of Christianity. Fortunately, the academy quickly realized the cadets’ mistake (they are still young people, after all), and redirected the program through the chaplain’s Office. I am proud to say that, in my opinion as an American, they absolutely did the right thing.

We’ve also had our government withdraw its support from a homeless shelter that requires gospel teaching in exchange for charity. Such support was immediately replaced by a prominent American citizen, Glenn Beck. In my opinion, that is exactly how things should be.

My own religious tradition, that of Judaism, says that the highest form of charity is anonymous. As our sage Maimonides points out, giving anonymously without conditions ensures that you are giving for the right reasons. I hope I will not offend in suggesting that it is an idea worthy of your consideration.

Furthermore, as a member of a religious minority, I am grateful to live in a country that goes to great lengths to ensure that religious institutions do not successfully engage state apparatus, military or otherwise. People like myself, and indeed minority groups everywhere (including your own fellow Sunnis, Your Majesty) have not traditionally fared well under such arrangements.

Thank you for contacting me. I look forward to our continued correspondence.


Barry Fagin