Christians claim to care about freedom of religion, but many seem to mean freedom of "their own" religion - Image courtesy of modenadude (http://bit.ly/1cOtZ65)

Many Christians claim to care about freedom of religion, but some seem to mean freedom of “their own” religion. – Image courtesy of Modenadude (http://bit.ly/1cOtZ65)

“No Muslim Parking…Your Car Will Be Towed.”

The phrase was printed in bold black letters on signs outside of Westview Shopping Center in Spring Branch, Texas. The shopping center owner denies posting the signs despite one of his employees alleging that he was responsible. The Westview parking lot is positioned near El Farouq Mosque, where Muslims heading to worship services told CNN affiliate KRPC they were offended.

“I’m very shocked because we do live in a society that’s supposed to be very accepting, and this is what we all preach,” Yara Aboshady told a KRPC reporter. “That we all have the freedom of religion.”

It’s a funny phrase, “freedom of religion.” Americans claim to value it, but when they speak of it, they often mean “freedom of my religion.” This is especially true of Christians.

We can only imagine what would happen if signs were posted outside of a Baptist Church warning, “No Christian Parking.” Tony Perkins would call a press conference on the steps of the Family Research Council headquarters, David Barton would be making the rounds on cable news talk shows, Alliance Defending Freedom would be rushing to file a lawsuit, and poor Rush Limbaugh might have an on-air heart attack.

Christian leaders and political groups claim to oppose religious discrimination, but when the religion in question is Islam, their silence is deafening.

In a 2011 Public Religion Research Institute survey, almost half of Americans said they would be uncomfortable with a woman wearing a burqa, a mosque being built in their neighborhood or Muslim men praying at an airport, or a having a Muslim teach at the elementary school in their community. According to Gallup, about half of American Jews, Catholics, and Protestants believe most Americans are prejudiced toward Muslims.

Interestingly but not surprisingly, one’s views on these issues are heavily shaped by which news network one watches. Of Americans who say they trust Fox News the most, 52% believe that Muslims are trying to establish sharia law in the United States. Only 20% of those who most trust CNN and 23% of those who most trust public television believe the same thing. Sixty-eight percent of Fox News viewers said they believe the values of Islam are at odds with American values.

What are Christian leaders who claim to care about religious discrimination doing about anti-Muslim attitudes and behaviors? Little, if anything.

In fact, some Christians have found themselves on the opposite of these debates. When a group of Muslims attempted to construct a mosque in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, for example, many Christian residents opposed it, even filing an appeal with the state supreme court to halt construction.

Christians should continue to decry unjust discrimination of their fellow Christians, both in America and abroad. And they should continue to protest against the brutal persecution of Christians by Muslims throughout the Middle East. But they can’t afford to stay mum in the face of discrimination against religious non-Christians in America. As our nation grows more pluralistic, Christians are losing their cultural and political cache. If current patterns persist, only a minority of Americans may claim to follow Jesus in the not-so-distant future. If Christians allow restrictions on where Muslims can build mosques—much less park—who’s to say that the same restrictions won’t one day be placed on them?

So Christians must oppose anti-Muslim discrimination wherever it rears its head. For when it comes to liberty, a threat to any religion is a threat to them all.

14 Comments

  1. Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Of course Muslims should not be subject to discrimination.
    But for every story like this how many stories in the media educate Americans about how Christians are mistreated, brutalized, discriminated against, etc. in virtually every country on the planet where Muslims are in the majority. Just today religious web news sites are reporting of Muslim mobs in Egypt terrorizing Coptic Christians and burning down Coptic churches.
    Yet on the secular news channels I only saw it mentioned on Fox. However, this story implies there is something wrong with Fox news for doing its job of informing Americans of relevant news

    • Jonathan Merritt

      I never said there is something wrong with Fox News. I only pointed the difference in their viewers beliefs from those who favor other networks. That is the what, not the why. You, the reader, get to decide WHY you think that is.

  2. Deacon John, while I appreciate that you bring to light the way that Christians are treated badly in many other countries, should Christians repay persecution with persecution? It seems that the teaching of Christ show us that an appropriate response would be to treat those who may persecute us with love. Secular media is secular media – let them do what they will. However, true followers of Christ do just that – follow Christ.

  3. Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Matt–My first sentence was that Muslims should not be discriminated against. But where is the news coverage, for example, of the wholesale slaughter of Coptic Christians in Egypt and the torching of a long list of Coptic churches. To my mind, to run stories making us look like “bad guys” over the parking problems of some Moslems here is an insult to the Christians undergoing martyrdom in the Islamic world.
    And when is our president going to say something???? It is a sad day (and a bizarre turn in history) when you can hear many Christians praising a Russian leader–Putin–for speaking out on behalf of Christian being martyred in the Muslim world.

  4. I live in a college town where there were plans to build a larger mosque for the congregants. Some people opposed it on the basis that it was too large for the neighborhood (a major thoroughfare opposite the university campus, while a few others seemed to have a more insidious opposition. The mosque went up and I haven’t read one peep of complaint about the people who gather there causing one single problem for the neighbors or anyone else.

    A shopping center that wants to limit its parking to patrons can just say so. Bringing anyone’s faith into it just makes things needlessly incendiary.

  5. Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Parking problems! Parking problems! Permit difficulties that many Christian churches have run into here as well. Oh what oppression! Today’s latest count of Coptic churches burned in the last few days is now 30. Some of those churches go back to the 3rd and 4th centuries.
    It rated one sentence on CNN and a few more sentences on Fox. Where’s the coverage even on many religious web sites where you would think the destruction of Christian communities would rate some wide and serious coverage.

    • Marcus Johnson

      And where is the reporting on the servicemembers who are still getting killed in Afghanistan?

      And where is the reporting on K-12 children who are bullied because they have a disability, or identify as LGBT?

      I can go on and on here, but I think the problem has much more to do with the lack of substance in 24-hour news channels, regardless of political affiliation. Picking this one issue has some merit, but there is a larger theme at work here that we have to recognize if we are going to have a real debate about this: fact is, 24-hour news programs are less concerned with informing the public and more concerned with entertaining the public.

  6. Right now in my very state we have persecution of a Muslim going on. A mentally ill man who is a muslim went into a bank and in the end after a long hostage situation shot two bank employees after releasing one. He kept talking about the voices in his head and wanting the implant in his brain removed. It was in fact told he did have a mental illness diagnosis. So how does this fit into this topic?

    His family still lives in this community. There are people from this community and outside of it being verbally attacked just for saying they will pray for his family while they deal with his aftermath. We are apparently defending him and giving excuse for what he did. They are now trying to say him and his family are terrorist just because they are Muslim and wanting to go against the muslims in the community. They want (as they put it) “all of the towel heads sent back where they belong”. This young man and his brothers were all born in California and grew up in Louisiana after their father was killed. Even the local law enforcement doesn’t care about his family or what will happen to them. Christians preach the bible, yet do the same as what is done all over the world. How are they any better? Their not! They are just as evil and godless as the people overseas doing it to Christians. Also to go after people who are innocent and have nothing to do with this because they comment saying their praying for everyone including his family… That is not the way of a Christian.

  7. I’ve been watching and participating in conversations with people in Egypt since the 2011 revolution. American Evangelicals have been telling the Egyptians that Obama is a secret Muslim and supports the Muslim Brotherhood. The Egyptians believe this lie. No one believes our government as a result and no one listened to reason by Senators McCain and Graham.

    http://thelede.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/07/16/egyptians-who-jeered-clinton-cite-american-conservatives-to-argue-u-s-secretly-supports-islamists

    Now over 600 people have been slaughtered by the police and dozens of churches have been attacked in retaliation. Words can kill.

  8. Jonathan,

    Yes, yes yes. This needs to be said over and over again. What alarms me the most are the major Christian groups that align themselves with anti-Muslim figures or promote their agenda. For example: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/christandpopculture/2012/10/citizenship-confusion-anti-muslim-rhetoric-and-christian-political-institutions/

    And: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/christandpopculture/2013/05/citizenship-confusion-when-world-mag-promotes-a-radical-anti-muslim-advocate/

  9. “So Christians must oppose anti-Muslim discrimination wherever it rears its head. For when it comes to liberty, a threat to any religion is a threat to them all.”

    Let me throw a different spin on this, as I can’t find anywhere in the Gospels where Jesus had anything to say about liberty. We must oppose anti-anybody discrimination, anywhere, all the time, because that’s one way to love our neighbour.

  10. Jonathan, thank you for this peace. I would like to introduce the work of the Evangelical Chapter of the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy that works to transform Christian faith identities from hostile in regards to other religions to benevolence following the example of Jesus. It also addresses Evangelical religious illiteracy. Interested readers can learn more at our website at http://www.religious-diplomacy.org/evangelichapter.

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