The Islamophobia Dodge of the Religious Freedom Pledge

Open Doors USA, a Christian organization which evangelizes non-believers around the world, has drafted a Relgious Freedom Pledge, which it is asking the presidential candidates to sign.

The pledge states, among other things, that:

[R]eligious liberty in full is the birthright of every American, as recognized by the First Amendment. It entails the right to believe, worship, and practice in accord with one’s faith, subject only to the limits imposed by the U.S. constitution and the Bill of Rights.  The right of religious freedom must be applied equally to all religious communities in America, including Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, and others. At the same time, religious freedom does not mandate belief, but protects the right not to believe.

So why won’t the pledge promoters talk about Islamophobia — by the very candidates it is trying to get to sign the pledge?

The only candidate so far to sign the pledge is Rick Santorum, who just last week advocated for profiling of Muslims. Santorum has also maintained that “Christendom” is at civilizational war with “jihadis,” who include, in his mind, moderates like Imam Feisal Rauf. When I asked an Open Doors spokesperson, Jerry Dykstra, about Santorum’s endorsement of Muslim profiling, he told me that “we’re happy to discuss the pledge, but not to comment on individual candidates’ stance on issues. We’re not experts in each candidates stance or statements on every issue. We do want candidates to pledge to upholding religious freedom for people of all faiths which of course includes Muslims.” But when I asked Dykstra if I could interview an Open Doors representative about the pledge in light of anti-Muslim sentiment in the U.S. generally, he declined.

Taking a look at Open Doors website, I see that it promotes a “Muslim World Ministry” for which it raises money so “You can send light to dark places in the Muslim World.” You’re free to be Muslim, but it would be better to be Christian.

What’s more, though, is how Christian candidates who’ve done much to promote a lack of religious freedom for other religions (e.g., Michele Bachmann’s worry that sharia will “usurp the Constitution” or Newt Gingrich’s calls to ban sharia law because it is “a comprehensive political, economic and religious movement that seeks to impose sharia—Islamic law—upon all aspects of global society”) or who have done little to tamp it down (e.g., Rick Perry’s lame non-efforts to call out his supporters’ anti-Mormonism, or Mitt Romney’s apparent willingness to overlook his endorser Jay Sekulow’s anti-Muslim crusades) are “considering” signing the pledge, with no questions raised by Open Doors.

It seems that Open Doors is more concerned about what it perceives to be anti-Christian sentiment. According to the pledge, religious freedom includes the right to employ religious arguments “contending for or against laws and policies, such as laws designed to protect the unborn and traditional marriage, or to relieve poverty and increase economic opportunity for the disadvantaged.” (Right Wing Watch points out how pledge co-author and Georgetown University professor Thomas Farr has argued that Judge Vaughn Walker’s ruling in the Proposition 8 case would lead to religious persecution because it deemed “that religious and moral arguments against gay marriage are, in effect, irrational and therefore unconstitutional.”) The pledge also promotes “the right of individuals and of religious communities not to be forced to participate in, or to forfeit their employment because of refusal to participate in, activities that deeply offend their religious conscience.” (That is the same argument made by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and some evangelicals against providing insurance that covers cost-free birth control.)

Religious persecution is a serious issue, and it’s true that Christians experience actual religious persecution in many places in the world. But being deprived of the ability to force one’s religious beliefs on all one’s fellow citizens in a secular democracy does not constitute persecution, and marginalizing Muslims in the name of “protecting” the Constitution isn’t “freedom.” But Open Doors doesn’t want to talk about it.

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