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Freedom? Yes! Mosque? No!

The issue isn't just freedom, say some champions of religious liberty.

Political Advocacy Tracker is a roundup of what Christian activist organizations have been talking about the past week.

It's Not About Liberty

New York City officials approved the building of the so-called "Ground Zero Mosque" last week, but some religious liberty advocates continue to decry the decision. 

Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), said one could be against the center while still maintaining that the group should have the freedom to have a mosque in lower Manhattan.

Speaking on Public Radio International's To the Point, Land said, "We have consistently defended religious freedom, separation of church and state. And we believe that Muslims certainly have the right to build mosques, to have places of worship that are convenient to them in their communities … I certainly defend the right of Muslims to have mosques and places of worship in lower Manhattan but not, not at Ground Zero."

BreakPoint's Chuck Colson co-wrote the Manhattan Declaration, a document that places religious liberty next to life and marriage as leading issues of Christian conscience. But he was "distressed—aghast, in fact—over the controversy about building a mosque at ground zero." For Colson, the issue was not a question of religious liberty.

"The construction of the mosque at ground zero is not about tolerance. And it isn't about religious liberty. This is about prudence: the good sense to do what is right," said Colson. "If [Muslims]—and Mayor Bloomberg—don't have the prudence to respect the sensibilities of others, then Congress ought to step in. With the upcoming elections, I'm sure your congressman will be all ears to your concerns."

Family Research Council's (FRC) Ken Blackwell disagreed with those who "see the building of a mosque within sight of the place where 3,000 Americans were murdered on 9/11 as a test of American tolerance and openness." He said President Obama should "take a strong stance against any mosque at Ground Zero" and "stand up for Americans this time!"

Faith in Public Life announced that 40 Christian, Jewish, and Muslim leaders signed a statement saying they were "deeply troubled by the xenophobia and religious bigotry that has characterized some of the opposition to a proposed Islamic center and mosque near where the World Trade Center towers once stood." Evangelicals (with the exception of New York Faith and Justice executive director Lisa Sharon Harper*) were noticeably absent from the list of signers. Jim Wallis and Joel Hunter did not sign the statement, but each wrote in support of the center on the Washington Post On Faith blog.

Correction (8/16): An earlier version of this article had erroneously said that Lisa Sharon Harper had not signed the Faith in Public Life document. She did sign it, and sent this further clarification: "Tobin Grant got it wrong when he said my signature was 'noticeably absent from the list' of signers to the Faith in Public Life statement in support of the Cordoba House. I gladly signed the statement and my name is the fifth name on the list. As an African American I know something about red-lining. As an American I have a deep value for religious freedom. As a Christian a pillar of my faith is forgiveness and a core value is hospitality. The Muslim world did not commit the atrocity of 9/11. An extremist terrorist organization did that. The Cordoba House was conceived as a community center where all are welcome—a symbol of reconciliation and embrace. Fear is no excuse for confused language and blurred lines. Truth is truth. Jesus said 'I am the way and the truth and the life.' To silence truth, is to silence Jesus himself. Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh would do well to remember that." We apologize for the error.

800 Miles from Ground Zero

The Islamic center in Manhattan is not the only mosque that has received opposition. Muslims have also faced opposition in Wisconsin and California. Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) News Erick Stakelbeck, who is described as a "terrorism analyst," went to Murfreesboro, Tennessee, this week to report on another Islamic center. According to Stakelbeck, the controversy is not the existence of the "mega-mosque." He said that there are questions about funding sources for the center, ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, and support for Hamas.

American Family Association's (AFA) Bryan Fischer said that this and plans for all other new mosques should be banned because "each Islamic mosque is dedicated to the overthrow of the American government."

"If a mosque was willing to publicly renounce the Koran and its 109 verses that call for the death of infidels, renounce Allah and his messenger Mohammed, publicly condemn Osama bin Laden, Hamas, and Abdelbaset al Megrahi (the Lockerbie bomber), maybe then they could be allowed to build their buildings. But then they wouldn't be Muslims at that point, now would they?" said Fischer.

In response to Fischer, AFA's Elijah Friedeman wrote that mosques—including the Islamic center in Manhattan—should be allowed to be built. "If we ignore the legal foundation of our nation, we will be left in a legal quicksand with no protection from others who want to suspend our freedoms when they feel like it. I would give the Devil the benefit of the law, if for no other reason than my own safety," wrote Friedeman. 

Accusations of Prop. 8 'Junk Science'

Activists have been featured on several shows to respond to the Proposition 8 ruling on same-sex marriage in California. Last week, Concerned Women for American president Wendy Wright was a guest on MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews and on CNN. On Sunday, FRC president Tony Perkins debated David Boies on CBS's Face the Nation.

During the exchange, Perkins said the judge in the case "ignored a lot of the social science on the issue." Boies responded that Perkins and others were presenting "junk science." 

"There simply wasn't any evidence, there weren't any of those studies. There weren't any empirical studies. That's just made up. That's junk science," said Boies. "And it's easy to say that on television, but a witness stand is a lonely place to lie, and when you come into court you can't do that. That's what we proved. We put fear and prejudice on trial, and fear and prejudice lost."

Perkins responded by saying, "This is so relatively new that there is not a conclusive evidence to suggest that children who grow up with two moms or two dads fare as well as children who grow up with a mom and a dad." He then said there was evidence that no-fault divorce affected children, but that the judge "just ignored all of that and said that there is no evidence that any of the policy that's been adopted on no-fault divorce and other liberal-leaning policies have impacted marriage."

"The judge did deal with it," said Boies. "And he pointed out, which is obvious, is that no-fault divorce doesn't have anything to do with [the] issue that's here. The empirical studies that do exist and they're based on what's happened in Canada and Sweden and Spain and other countries and other states where you are able to have marriage equality demonstrates that there is no harm. There are--there are studies going back for twenty years that's--that demonstrate this. The problem here is that unlike a court, people don't stick to the facts."

Faith in Public Life's Dan Nejfelt found Boies persuasive. "Throughout the exchange, Boies laid bare the inaccuracy and illogic of Perkins's arguments," said Nejfelt. "The entire segment was yet another demonstration that the religious right's arguments against legal recognition of same-sex marriage aren't grounded in empirical evidence."

Later in the week, Perkins posted a list of 10 studies on homosexuality that he said show that Boies was "just plain wrong." None of the articles were on same-sex marriage.

"Not only is there research, but much of it has been confirmed by scientists in the pro-homosexual movement. In his rush to throw 40 years of analysis under the bus because it didn't suit his personal agenda, Judge Walker launched a full-scale assault on the international research community. Considering the quick snapshots [of research], how many people would feel comfortable turning over young children to homosexuals? How many would agree with Walker that 'same-sex couples are identical to opposite-sex couples?'" said Perkins.

The social science and other documents and videos presented as evidence in the Proposition 8 trial are available here.

Odds and Ends

• The National Association of Evangelicals announced that Sammy Mah resigned after six years as President and CEO of World Relief. "When Sammy came to World Relief, we were in urgent need of financial, operational and missional renovation," said Scott Arbeiter, chairman of the World Relief board of directors. "We are deeply indebted to him for taking on these massive challenges, providing focused and positive leadership, and guiding us into best practices in each of these areas. Sammy was the right person at the right time." 

• After Election Day, the Congress will have over two months left to work before new members are sworn into office. For those expecting Republicans to win control of the House of Representatives, this would be a lame duck session in which Democrats could try to pass legislation that would be blocked come January. FRC's Perkins said, "What if Democratic leaders are saving their most controversial issues until after November when voters are powerless to do anything about it? That's a question more insiders are beginning to ask as big ticket legislation on spending, the military, global warming and campaign finance sit curiously idle." ERLC's Doug Carlson warned, "As much damage as some members have already done—radical health care reform, a hate crimes law, the expansion of abortion funding—they are far from finished, unless stopped." The House of Representatives has already rejected a Republican resolution against a lame duck session. 

• In CitizenLink's weekly webcast, Stuart Shepard asked Ron Prentice, chairman of ProtectMarriage.com, why he was continuing to fight for traditional marriage despite the costs. "The reason that we stay in this battle is because it's truth," said Prentice. "For the government to intentionally disallow a child the opportunity to have both a mom and a dad, that's an amazing stance."

• Evangelicals for Social Action is advocating for a complete elimination of nuclear weapons. ESA's Heidi Unruh said, "This is not an idealistic crusade but faithful service. We acknowledge that this world, our ideals, and our efforts belong to God. If humankind could conceive the outrageous notion of an arsenal capable of destroying every person on the planet—and then succeed in building it—why is it inconceivable to propose dismantling it?"

Related Elsewhere:

Earlier Political Advocacy Trackers are available on our site.

Christianity Today also follows political developments on the politics blog.

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