THIS WEEK IN GOD…. First up from the God Machine this week is a look at a step from the U.S. Justice Department that, under more sensible circumstances, would have never been necessary.

Islam is a valid religion that is entitled to constitutional protection, said a U.S. attorney who stepped into a debate about a proposed mosque and Islamic center in Tennessee.

“To suggest that Islam is not a religion is quite simply ridiculous,” said U.S. Attorney Jerry Martin of Nashville in a statement Monday (Oct. 18). “Each branch of the federal government has independently recognized Islam as one of the major religions of the world.”

At issue is a court case in Murfreesboro, Tenn., in which a group of locals hope to prevent another group of locals from building a new mosque/community center. That the community has been home to a group of Muslim Americans for several decades, without incident, is apparently irrelevant.

As part of the plaintiff’s case, opponents of the proposed building hope to convince a judge that — in all seriousness — Islam, one of the world’s largest faith traditions, isn’t actually a religion, and therefore local Muslim Americans have no First Amendment rights. The absurdity of the argument prompted the Justice Department to weigh in, explaining that denying Muslims in this case would be a civil rights violation.

“A mosque is quite plainly a place of worship, and the county rightly recognized that it had an obligation to treat mosques the same as churches, synagogues or any other religious assemblies,” said Thomas Perez, assistant attorney general for civil rights, in a statement from the Department of Justice.

That this even has to be said in the 21st century is a national embarrassment.

Also from the God Machine this wek:

* The Falwell-created Liberty University, an evangelical Christian college in Virginia, routinely condemns “welfare” and government aid to Americans in need. At the same time, however, Liberty University’s students rely heavily on taxpayer-financed tuition aid, and school officials don’t seem to notice the contradiction. (thanks to Morbo for the heads-up)

* As if this story couldn’t get any worse, Belgium’s Roman Catholic Church, already reeling from its suspected role in the systemic sexual abuse of children, was at the center of a new scandal this week after its primate, Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard, described AIDS as “a sort of inherent justice.” (thanks to reader R.P.)

* California’s Crystal Cathedral megachurch has filed for bankruptcy, drowning in $43 million of debt. Crystal Cathedral is perhaps best known for launching the “Hour of Power” program.

* The Family Research Council, National Organization for Marriage, and Rick Santorum are working together to target several Iowa Supreme Court Justices who ruled last year that two consenting adults have a legal right to get married.

* I believe the right’s talk about a “War on Christmas” should wait at least until after Halloween. If only the American Family Association agreed.

* And finally, the Vatican’s newspaper is, I’m pleased to report, fond of “The Simpsons.” (thanks to D.J.)

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.