Open House at the new Baptist Joint Committee on Religious Liberty

Written by Don Byrd

It is a dubious accomplishment for a Baptist leader to turn his back on our religious freedom heritage, insult millions of peaceful followers of another faith, and misconstrue foundational American principles guaranteeing equality under the law, all in one opinion column. But that is what Gerald Harris, editor of the Georgia Baptist newspaper (Christian Index) has managed to do.

In a piece published earlier this week, Harris contends that Muslim-Americans are not entitled to religious freedom benefits. He quotes with excitement those who argue Islam is not in fact a religion, and criticizes those of us who defend the rights of Muslim-Americans to construct mosques in this country. Most specifically, he calls into question a recent amicus brief supporting the right of a mosque construction in New Jersey, signed by many religious liberty advocates including the Baptist Joint Committee and the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

Now, Harris’ wrong-headed views are being widely discussed in Baptist circles. It seems like a good time to reiterate that the Baptist Joint Committee has for decades spoken out forcefully against this sentiment. The BJC rebukes this view when presented in court, when presented on the campaign trail, and rebukes it now when presented by a Southern Baptist leader. The BJC’s Brent Walker had this to say in response to Harris’ column:

Harris’ position that Islam is not a religion is plainly wrong — morally, theologically, and constitutionally. To deny Muslims the religious liberty that we claim for ourselves is un-American and contrary to more than 400 years of Baptist history.

If we don’t defend religious liberty rights for all, including Muslim-Americans, what is that freedom worth?

The Baptist Joint Committee defends proudly the mosque construction at issue in New Jersey, as explained in this story from May’s Report From the Capital. And in previous similar disputes, the BJC’s voice has been clear and consistent that all Americans enjoy the equal right to construct houses of worship and other religious facilities free of unnecessary governmental impediments. In 2012, the BJC signed a letter supporting mosque construction in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and Walker spoke out in a USAToday story about that controversy (which also included people claiming that Islam is not a religion). 

For more on the BJC’s work defending and extending religious freedom for everyone, see the BJC’s Religious Liberty for All page, and our page chronicling other times we’ve taken a stand against Islamophobia.

Most importantly, make your voice heard, too. Post this to your social media page to show your support for the idea that religious liberty means religious liberty for all