By Sarah McCammon
Religious liberty is a rallying cry for many evangelical voters, and it has been popping up repeatedly throughout this presidential campaign. But in the current political climate, some conservative Christians are struggling with how to apply religious freedom to other faiths — like Islam.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz made religious freedom a hallmark of his failed campaign for the Republican nomination. Now, presumptive nominee Donald Trump is picking up the theme.
“Religious freedom. The right of people of faith to freely practice their faith. So important,” Trump said in a June 10 speech in Washington, D.C., to members of the Faith and Freedom Coalition.
On June 21, in a room full of evangelical leaders in New York City, Trump again promised to protect religious freedom. The presumptive GOP nominee said if he’s elected, “people are going to say ‘Merry Christmas’ again.”
For decades, fights over religious liberty in the U.S. have mostly been about the religious liberties of Christians. Evangelicals have rallied around issues like prayer in public schools, and more recently, whether conservative Christian vendors should be required by law to provide services for same-sex weddings.
But now, as the nation’s small but growing Muslim population gains a higher profile, other questions are emerging, including debates in several communities over the right to build mosques.
Pastor John Wofford of Armorel Baptist Church in northeast Arkansas raised that question at a national meeting of Southern Baptists this month.
“I would like to know how in the world someone within the Southern Baptist Convention can support the defending of rights for Muslims to construct mosques in the United States when these people threaten our very way of existence as Christians and Americans?” Wofford said. “They are murdering Christians, beheading Christians, imprisoning Christians all over the world.”
It had been just days since a gunman who had pledged loyalty to ISIS shot and killed 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando. The gunman was also killed.
In response, Southern Baptist leader Russell Moorewarned that letting the government restrict Muslims could lead to restrictions on Christians. He believes Christianity is the only true faith, and people must choose it freely.
“Sometimes we have really hard decisions to make — this isn’t one of those things,” Moore said. “What it means to be a Baptist is to support soul freedom for everybody.”
Moore leads the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, which recently signed on to a legal brief supporting the right of a group of Muslims in New Jersey to build a mosque. His answer was met with enthusiastic applause — but he has also faced criticism from some fellow conservatives, including Wofford.
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