NASHVILLE, Tenn. (ABP) — After opposing the building of a mosque near Ground Zero in New York City, the Southern Baptist Convention's chief spokesman on public policy has come out in support of Muslims seeking to build a new Islamic center in Murfreesboro, Tenn.
Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, recently signed on as a charter member of the Interfaith Coalition on Mosques, an initiative sponsored by the Jewish Anti-Defamation League.
The coalition of religious leaders from Jewish, Christian and Muslim faith traditions filed a friend-of-the-court brief opposing a lawsuit filed by citizens seeking to halt construction of a new Islamic Center of Middle Tennessee. The brief argues that the lawsuit alleging that local officials acted improperly in granting building permits to an existing Muslim congregation that has outgrown its facilities amounts to "unlawful viewpoint discrimination" against a "disfavored" religion.
Land, who has said publicly that he believes a proposed Park51 Islamic cultural center and mosque near the former World Trade Center should be moved to another location out of respect for survivors of those who lost lives in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, said in general that Muslims have the same right as Christians and everyone else to worship as they please.
"To help preserve the First Amendment for all Americans, we have the right to the free exercise of our faith without the interference of the government," Land said in a recorded audio interview at WorldNetDaily.com.
"We agree with that as Baptists," Land said. "We believe that people have the freedom to worship and to express their faith and to have houses of worship in the places where they live."
Land decried acts of vandalism and arson that have been reported at the proposed future site of the Murfreesboro mosque. "People have resorted to violence to try and keep them from having a place of worship where they live, and we believe that is un-American."
Opponents to the mosque argue that the issue isn't religion but rather that they view radical Islam as a political philosophy with a goal of world domination. Land, however, said the jihadist movement that spawned the 9/11 attacks represents of "a very small minority" of Muslims and is in fact a "death cult" that didn't emerge within Islam until the 18th century.
"I would argue that we should never ever make any religion illegal or should in any was discriminate against a religion," Land said. "I would say the Muslim community in Murfreesboro is definitely being victimized."
The Anti-Defamation League, which also is on record opposing the so-called Ground Zero Mosque, spearheaded the Interfaith Coalition on Mosques to combat what a press release called "a disturbing rise in discrimination against Muslims trying to legally build or expand their houses of worship, or mosques, across the United States."
"We believe the best way to uphold America's democratic values is to ensure that Muslims can exercise the same religious freedom enjoyed by everyone in America," according to the group's statement of purpose. "They deserve nothing less than to have a place of worship like everyone else."
The statement accused mosque opponents of "misrepresenting the Koran and taking passages out of context and seeking to use the statements of a few extremists to claim that all American Muslims secretly want to impose Islamic Shariah law in the United States."
Another charter member of the coalition is Welton Gaddy of the Interfaith Alliance, an ordained Baptist minister and pastor for preaching and worship at Northminster [Baptist] Church in Monroe, La.
Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.