Religious liberty is a fairly easy concept to grasp: All faiths have the right to exist, meet for worship, spread their ideas and build facilities. All must abide by certain laws, and the government must treat them equally.
There is nothing in our Constitution that says that certain groups will be denied these rights simply because some people don’t like them. Yes, some groups have unpopular views and doctrines – but the First Amendment protects them too. It sometimes takes courage to stand up for the rights of groups deemed unpopular, but our Constitutions demands nothing less. (And, of course, you also have the right to join no religious group at all by being an agnostic, atheist or skeptic.)
You would think that a religious group once in the minority, a group whose members once faced persecution and unpopularity, would understand that. Sadly, that does not appear to be the case.
It has been reported that Richard Land, head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, has decided to resign from an interfaith group that was formed to support the right of Muslims to build mosques in America.
The group was pulled together by the Anti-Defamation League after some residents of Murfreesboro, Tenn., went to court in an effort to block construction of a mosque simply because they don’t much like Muslims.
Land said he had to pull out of the group because some Southern Baptists got the wrong idea. They seemed to think he was promoting Islam.
“I don’t agree with that perception but it’s widespread and I have to respect it,” Land told the Associated Press.
Let me get this straight: A top Baptist official – whose spiritual ancestors were often persecuted (and even imprisoned) in colonial America because their views conflicted with state-established churches – can’t be bothered more than 200 years later to stick up for a persecuted minority? How quickly some forget their own history!
And where would today’s Baptists have gotten the impression that it’s all right to oppose a core freedom like allowing a religious groups to open a house of worship on land it bought? Maybe from Land himself. He opposed the so-called “Ground Zero” mosque in Manhattan, employing the nonsensical argument that allowing Muslims who had nothing to do with the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to build three blocks from the World Trade Center site would somehow offend the families of those who died.
I should point out that right-thinking Baptists don’t agree with Land on this. Don Byrd at the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty makes a good point, writing, “Where is the rule that says we have to respect widespread mis-perception? How about shining a light on the truth instead? And reminding those you represent of core Baptist principles?”
Preach it, Bro. Byrd! If some Baptists are confused about what religious liberty really means, Land’s job is to educate them – not to give in to bigotry.
If he refuses to do that, Land should change the name of his group. I’d recommend the “Ethics & Religious Liberty (Except for Groups We Don’t Like) Commission.”