Thanks to recent events both abroad and here in the United States, many Americans are wary of Islam. As a result, innocent Muslims throughout the United States are facing restrictions on their religious freedom – particularly when it comes to the places in which they worship.
As Americans United reported previously, a proposed mosque in Georgia hit a roadblock when officials in Newton County placed a temporary moratorium on all new houses of worship in order to stop a mosque from being built. That story became national news, and a recent meeting to discuss the matter further was called off thanks to social media posts that raised safety concerns. (The moratorium has since expired).
Sadly, attacks on Muslims go beyond stopping the construction of new mosques. On the anniversary of 9/11 earlier this month, the Florida Islamic center that Orlando nightclub shooter Omar Mateen had attended was damaged by arson.
We should not prevent mosques from existing in the United States.
This is a very difficult time for American Muslims. But it seems an unlikely voice has emerged to defend the rights of Muslims in America: an ally of the Religious Right.
In a column reprinted this week by the online Christian Post, John Stonestreet of the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview wrote that Christians should support the right of Muslims to build mosques in the United States.
“[B]y remaining silent, or even worse, supporting efforts to limit the religious freedom of non-Christians, [Christians] confirm our opponents in their skepticism about our motives,” Stonestreet wrote. “‘Religious freedom for me but not for thee’ reinforces the narrative that Christian arguments for religious freedoms are, at best, a kind of selfish pleading, and at worst, a grasp for power.”
Indeed, Americans United frequently condemns the Religious Right for its hypocrisy on matters of religious freedom. While the far right is quick to cry “persecution” when it believes fundamentalist Christians are being slighted, it remains silent when religious minorities and non-believers come under attack. Stonestreet is correct that this hypocrisy does nothing to advance Christianity.
But Stonestreet also hit on another important point. He said if Islam can be restricted, so too can Christianity.
“You don’t have to be a novelist to imagine the scenario in which the tables are turned on us,” he wrote. “And notice I'm talking here of ‘freedom of worship’ not ‘freedom of religion.’ If a society can deny those with unpopular beliefs a place to gather, imagine what it can do with attempts to bring those beliefs into the public square.”
To be clear: Americans United is no fan of the late Colson, a former staffer for President Richard M. Nixon who started a prison ministry while doing time for crimes committed on behalf of his boss. Colson, who died in 2012, dreamed of turning the United States into a fundamentalist Christian theocracy. He was an obvious opponent of church-state separation.
Colson also claimed that InnerChange, his fundamentalist prison program, dramatically cut rates of recidivism among ex-inmates. An objective study did not support his argument.
Regardless of Colson’s flaws or any ulterior motives by his organization, Stonestreet is correct that oppressing one religious group is bad for all religious groups in America. It’s bad for non-believers, too, because any viewpoint that is out of favor with the majority could conceivably be harmed at any point in the future.
There another important point to be made: Denying American Muslims the basic freedoms every other group takes for granted will make us less safe. We won’t defeat the merchants of terror by doing what they do – oppressing people and taking away their rights. We will defeat them by showing the world that there’s a better way: freedom of conscience for all.
So for the sake of our own safety and for the sake of upholding the values of our Constitution, Muslims must be free to worship in the United States. That includes building mosques.