What is freedom of religion? Because of the Left’s new Nazi movement I doubt if many people even know any more. There is a rabid, mad dog attitude in the country today that seeks to demonize and shut up anyone who doesn’t say or believe the approved dogma of the Left.
For an hour and a half of brilliant commentary on the importance of free (and diverse) speech, watch Dinesh D’Souza speak at Brandeis University.
Everything from “Dump Trump” vitriol, to fake news, to forcing acceptance of same sex marriage and transgenderism, to insisting that climate change is man-made, to the socialist ideal of the nanny state, to providing “safe” places where students can go to avoid the anxiety of hearing someone say something they don’t agree with, to the shouting down of conservative speakers at places of higher learning (being made even higher through the legalization of pot) – everything points to our society’s growing intolerance of diversity in thought and belief.
The leftist mantra of “diversity” is non-inclusive of traditional views. In my home State of California the assembly is considering several pieces of legislation that infringe on freedom of religion. One thing they want to do is outlaw codes of conduct at Christian schools based on religious values that go counter to contemporary secular values. The Left wants government control of religion.
But the premise of freedom of religion is to protect and preserve the mutual tolerance of different faiths (pluralism), so that within the context of an open society everyone can peacefully coexist, regardless of their religious opinions and practices. Freedom is the antithesis of government control, and having the freedom to believe as one chooses also includes the option of not ascribing to any formal religious beliefs at all. Freedom of religion means government does not force you to conform.
Freedom of religion arises from our innate human desire to be free because God creates us to be free. That freedom is threatened when laws and institutions coerce us against our will. That is why this principle of human freedom is enshrined in the first amendment of the U.S. Constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof“. In other words, freedom of religion means the government will neither coerce nor restrict its citizens in how they choose to live and pursue happiness, according to their faith.
For this very reason President Thomas Jefferson wrote the Danbury Baptist association, that this constitutional principle builds “a wall of separation between Church & State”. Twisting the essential meaning of this phrase, there exists today strong political forces who interpret it to mean that religious beliefs should have no part in the governing of our nation.
But that is the opposite of what Jefferson wrote in his letter to the Danbury Baptists. He referred to the “free exercise” of religion, as among “the rights of conscience” based on his assertion that, “religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions”.
In a broader sense, this concept reflects the Biblical view of freewill. Until the mid-15th century Bibles were rare and valuable because they had to be hand-copied, one by one. Add to this a high degree of illiteracy, most Christians were dependent upon their leaders to tell them what Scripture taught. But the development of the printing press and translations from the Latin into the languages of believers set the stage for the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century.
When Martin Luther posted his 95 theses challenging doctrines of the Catholic church, he was exercising both freedom of religion and freedom of speech. While this opened a debate that led to the Reformation, the personal consequence he suffered for his honest questioning of church authority was that he was excommunicated. Very basically, the Catholic church rationale was, “If you can’t accept how we do things then you can’t belong to our church”.
The practice of excommunication has a New Testament basis. Regarding a morally unregenerate man, 1 Corinthians 5:2 says, “Let him who has done this be removed from among you.” And 5:5 says, “…deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.” The Bible does not teach us to destroy another’s flesh. This is not a veiled command to execute this person, but to turn him over to Satan by removing him from the protection of fellowship in Christ.
Excommunication is the extreme form of non-violent banishment or “shunning”. In some cases, a church will practice a kind of disfellowship which is temporary and intended to be restorative. For those who have been hurtful, 2 Corinthians 6-8 prescribes: “For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough, so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him.” And for those corrected for their sin, Galatians 6:1 instructs, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.”
But had Luther been a Muslim and had his 95 theses been about how Islamic leaders were misrepresenting the Quran and Hadith and abusing the integrity of Islam, he would not have simply been excommunicated. He would have been put to death for the crime of blasphemy. There are two reasons for this. First of all, Islam’s holy books – the Quran, Hadith and Sira – teach Muslims to kill blasphemers.
Secondly, where Western Civilization teaches us to seek truth by examining evidence and arriving at consensus through open debate, Eastern thought is more focused on respect and submission to authority. The act of questioning authority is seen as disrespectful and rebellious. And in Islam, challenging authority is considered blasphemy.
In the West, we cherish our Western Civilization values of inquiry and open debate of our beliefs. This is the basis for all political freedoms, including freedom of belief, freedom of assembly, freedom of association, freedom of expression, etc. In stark contrast, Eastern authoritarian values do not engender freedom of religion or plurality at all, but a homogeneous submission to authority.
In his book, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, Nabeel Qureshi writes, “People from Eastern Islamic cultures generally assess truth through lines of authority, not individual reasoning. Of course, individuals do engage in critical reasoning in the East, but on average, it is relatively less valued and less prevalent than in the West. Leaders have done the critical reasoning, and leaders know best.” (p. 79, chapter 12, “Muslims in the West”).
Because of its general cultural values and specific religious directives, Islam is by definition incompatible with the principle of freedom of religion. One of the core teachings of Islam is Jihad, which is literally fighting against all other religions in order to spread Islam. Some sects of Islam argue that Jihad does not mean violent fighting, but their arguments are silenced by the most credible Islamic scholars. Make no mistake about this. Jihad is violent and it targets anyone who is not a Muslim.
This fact alone should be sufficient to disqualify Islam from enjoying freedom of religion in any free and open society. To grant Islam freedom is to put all other religions in jeopardy, because it is the goal of Muslims to force everyone to convert to Islam.
This goal is diametrically opposed to the Christian idea of “witnessing”. To Christians, proselytizing means sharing your faith with others and respecting the free will they have to make their own decisions. But in Islam, proselytizing is more often a matter of coercion, intimidation and the use of force, which should disqualify them from enjoying the benefits of religious freedom.
This begs the question: How can our society grant freedom of religion to a religion whose very goal is to oversee the dismantling of all other religions? To welcome Islam into the community of faith under the banner of freedom of religion is to invite a murderer into a sewing circle. It makes as much sense as transplanting a cancerous growth into a healthy body.
Verses in the Quran that teach violence (over 100 of them) are in stark contrast to violence in the Bible. Biblical violence is specific to particular peoples and places at specific times in history. Quranic violence is directed to non-believers in general and are universally applicable to all peoples, places and times. The Bible does not direct believers to proselytize by the use of violence. The holy books of Islam do.
For this reason, unless a Muslim or Islamic sect is willing to disavow those portions in the Quran, Hadith and Sira that instruct believers to fight non-Muslims, they should not be allowed to legally practice their religion in America. Because of the threat they pose to all other religions, Muslims should only be allowed to practice their religion if they are willing to foreswear those portions of their holy books that urge violence agains non-Muslims.
While it is true that there are many “moderate”, peaceful Muslims who believe Allah is loving and that Muhammed was a paragon of virtue, such religious convictions come in spite of the actual teachings found in the Quran and Hadith. The idea that Islam is “the religion of peace” comes from ignorance of what the holy books of Islam actually teach, and a fantasy understanding of Muhammad that lacks historical foundation. If those “moderate” Muslims were to research into what their own scholars have to say about the life and teachings of Muhammed, they would be shocked to discover that he was nothing like the prophet of God as they have been taught.
Such was the experience of Nabeel Qureshi. Because he firmly believed, as he had been taught, that Islam was true and Christianity was not, he eagerly debated Christians with the goal of convincing them of the truth of Islam. He approached his dialogues with non-Muslims with the same level of scholarship and intellectual integrity he needed to use in his pre-med studies in college. Because he was motivated to win converts to Islam he not only dug deep to learn the best arguments Islamic scholars have made, but he sought to research the weaknesses of all the Christian arguments. As a result, he began to learn what the Bible really teaches and eventually he came to understand the truth.
I have read two of Qureshi’s books: Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus and No God But One. The first tells his personal faith story. The second is a masterful apologetic comparison of Christianity and Islam. Both books contain a wealth of insight into the religion of Islam. I highly recommend them to anyone who is honest about wanting to know the truth.
Nabeel Qureshi’s spiritual journey was only possible because freedom of religion allowed him to be authentic about his faith, seek answers to his questions, and openly discuss them without fear of being accused of blasphemy. Whether or not people are willing to respect the fact that he left Islam is a litmus test for religious freedom.
Quran 4:89 says, “They wish that you should reject faith as they reject faith, and then you would be equal; therefore take not to yourselves friends of them, until they emigrate in the way of God; then, if they turn their backs, take them, and slay them wherever you find them; take not to yourselves any one of them as friend or helper.”
This is just one example of many, directing Muslims how to treat apostates. As pointed out above, if a Christian converts to Islam, other Christians may feel sad, disappointed or even angry, but they aren’t going to kill him. On the other hand, Muslims killing ex-Muslims because they have abandoned Islam is commonplace.
The idea of welcoming Islam into our open society on the assumption they will simply join in and become a contributing part of the religious community is totally irrational. It expects that all Muslims will choose to remain ignorant of what Muhammad was really like, continuing to ignore teachings from their holy books. And that is suicidal because we continually are seeing all over the world the terrorism being conducted by Muslims who actually believe what their holy books teach.
Freedom of religion for Islam is a non-sequitur. Anyone whose religion approves of killing another person because they refuse to believe their way does not deserve to enjoy the free exercise of that religion.