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Muslims, Christians, & Religious Liberty

Dome of the Rock, seen through the window of a Christian church in Jerusalem (Anastazzo/Shutterstock)

Peter Beinart has a piece in The Atlantic in which he discusses growing anti-Muslim hostility among conservative Christians.  He singles out conservative Christians (Catholic and Protestant) who don’t want to extend religious liberty protections that they enjoy to Muslims. Beinart says this is preventing conservative Christians from joining with natural allies in Muslim communities. Beinart:

Last year, a man named Daniel Haqiqatjou warned that, “Expressing any negative attitude toward homosexuality is now seen as hate speech, and the purveyors of that speech are sanctioned, boycotted, and can even face criminal charges in certain countries. It should not be underestimated how such steep consequences and strict policing have influenced the religious conversation on homosexuality.” The words could have been uttered by Ted Cruz. But Haqiqatjou uttered them at the annual Imam’s Conference of the Assembly of Muslim Jurists of America. Haqiqatjou worries that Islamophobia is leading American Muslims to embrace a left that does not actually respect Muslim religious beliefs.

“There has been this tendency to racialize Muslims,” he noted, “for Muslims to adopt this civil rights discourse for themselves and clearly that has moral traction because if you can think of yourself as the newest group that’s been stigmatized then you can use the language of civil rights, which has a lot of currency. But that has theological implications because Muslim is not a race, it’s a set of beliefs that you subscribe to.”

In the Trump era, however, few American Muslims seem to care. They’re willing to support the progressives who defend them against the present onslaught. “I’m not popular in the American Muslim community for speaking out on certain social issues,” Haqiqatjou admits, “because people say this is not a priority for Muslims” right now.

I think this is a very risky path for Christians in the United States. They may not like the fact that there are Muslims in America, but that doesn’t change the fact that there are Muslims in America, and they have a right to a place of worship. As Russell Moore has stated clearly, a government powerful enough to deny a Muslim congregation the right to build a mosque is a government powerful enough to deny the same to Christians. When you defend the right to religious liberty for Muslims, you are defending the same for Christians. I would even say it’s to the strategic advantage of Christians to have Muslims in their corner, precisely because the liberal establishment doesn’t like going up against minorities of which they approve.

Seems to me that non-Muslims on both the secular left and the religious right need to understand that Muslims in America are a test case for both sides. If the left is eager to protect the rights of Muslims to live as Muslims outside of the mosque, then it needs to come to terms with the fact that this means Christians are covered by the same principles. And if the right is eager to protect its own freedom of religion, it had better not let daylight get between itself and Muslims on this issue. You don’t have to agree with Muslim theology to believe that in America, they have a right to be wrong.

Russell Moore has written:

The state must also protect citizens from the state itself. A government that can regulate worship and conscience is a government that can do anything. One can’t claim to be for “limited government,” while at the same time proposing that the government be in the business of regulating worship and conscience.

Like other freedoms, there are limits to how our freedoms can be exercised, and government has an obligation to protect its citizens from violence and harm. It should carry out this obligation faithfully. But the state also has an obligation to protect citizens from the state itself. Stripping a religious community of civil liberties is an act of aggression by the state against its citizens.

Moreover, the idea that religious freedom should apply only to Christians, or only to religious groups that aren’t unpopular, is not only morally wrong but also self-defeating. A government that can tell you a mosque or synagogue cannot be built because it is a mosque or a synagogue is a government that, in the fullness of time, will tell an evangelical church it cannot be constructed because of our claims to the exclusivity of Christ. Those voices (though a distinct minority, to be sure) that claim to be Christian but seek to restrict religious freedom for others are perhaps unknowingly on a campaign to destroy religious liberty. They would set the precedents that will be used to destroy churches, and they will give the opponents of religious liberty the charge that the issue isn’t about freedom at all but about seeking government approval of one’s religion.

This is true.

The world of American Islam is a very complicated place. In this piece from a decade or so ago, I wrote about how difficult it was to cover Islam in America.  Far too many liberal journalists are willing to accept at face value the claims made by Muslim leaders that their groups seek peace and tolerance. It is simply not true, and journalists (as well as others) had better be aware of who is funding these organizations. That said, one doesn’t have to be CAIR’s useful idiot to realize that however deceptive or otherwise unworthy the activists are, there is still a precious First Amendment principle at stake here.

UPDATE: Reader George, who is a professor and a believing Christian, writes:

Yes, Yes a thousand times yes. I am amazed at Christians who say stuff like “We cannot allow them to get established here because they will take over and set up a caliphate”. Do they not realize that this is basically what people with Christianophobia say about us. They will use that same reasoning to justify the removal of our religious freedom.
Now I think we should allow religious freedom simply because it is the right thing to do. But I cannot believe the short-sightedness of Christians who want to give those who hate them the tools to take away their freedoms.
One final comment. People with Christianophobia tend to be white, wealthy, highly, educated and male. In other words they are very powerful and well connected. Christians who use their social power against Muslims today will provide these powerful people with the legitimation needed to pass anti-Christian legislation. I do not know how we get through to Christians who do not see this problem but keep writing Rod and I hope someone breaks through to them.


about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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