The Sound of Silence

by Dan Quinn

As attacks on the religious liberties of American Muslims grow, where are the supposed voices for religious freedom among far-right groups in Texas? Pressure groups like Liberty Institute (the Texas affiliate of Focus on the Family) and Texas Eagle Forum often grandstand about threats to First  Amendment’s protections for religious freedom when they claim Christians are the victims of unjust government actions or court decisions. Why are they silent as some call for discriminating against Americans because they are Muslims?

On Tuesday, for example, Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association demanded that the government bar the construction of “even one more mosque” in America, charging that every Muslim is a terrorist-in-training:

“Permits should not be granted to build even one more mosque in the United States of America, let alone the monstrosity planned for Ground Zero. This is for one simple reason: each Islamic mosque is dedicated to the overthrow of the American government.”

Never mind, for a moment, the venomous attack on the patriotism of people who don’t share Fischer’s religious beliefs. We wonder: if the AFA doesn’t support the First Amendment’s protections for religious freedom, did the group also oppose the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) of 2000? Here’s a key excerpt from that bill:

(b) Discrimination and exclusion

(1) Equal terms

No government shall impose or implement a land use regulation in a manner that treats a religious assembly or institution on less than equal terms with a nonreligious assembly or institution.

(2) Nondiscrimination

No government shall impose or implement a land use regulation that discriminates against any assembly or institution on the basis of religion or religious denomination.

(3) Exclusions and limits

No government shall impose or implement a land use regulation that—

(A) totally excludes religious assemblies from a jurisdiction; or

(B) unreasonably limits religious assemblies, institutions, or structures within a jurisdiction.

Of course, the AFA doesn’t oppose the RLUIPA. The group applauded a U.S. Supreme Court ruling upholding the constitutionality of that act in 2005. But its officials are ignoring that law — and the First Amendment — today.

Calls for official discrimination against American Muslims go beyond the building of mosques. As we noted on Monday, the Rev. Peter Marshall has declared that Muslims can’t be good Americans and that “Islam is  completely incompatible with either Christianity or patriotic Americanism.”

Religious-right groups in Texas were thrilled when the State Board of Education appointed Marshall to a panel helping revise Texas curriculum standards for social studies. Is that why those groups aren’t speaking out in support of religious freedom and against discrimination now? Has their support for religious freedom been just empty rhetoric? Do they think that the Constitution’s protections apply only to some Americans? Their silence is telling.

The Texas Freedom Network continues to support the freedom of all people, Christian and non-Christian, to practice their faith without interference from government. That freedom is the reason religion has thrived for more than two centuries in America. Make no mistake: permitting the use of fear, ignorance and hate now to limit the religious freedom of some Americans would be a tragedy for us all.

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