Richard Land withdrew from a group of religious leaders who support the right of Muslims to build mosques in the United States. Land, who is president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, joined the Interfaith Coalition on Mosques (ICOM) as a charter member. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) spearheaded the ICM's creation in response to increasing challenges to the construction of mosques and Islamic centers last summer.
Land said he did not quit the ICOM because of a change in his convictions but out of a need to represent the views of the SBC. In a letter to the ADL, Land wrote, "While many Southern Baptists share my deep commitment to religious freedom and the right of Muslims to have places of worship, they also feel that a Southern Baptist denominational leader filing suit to allow individual mosques to be built is 'a bridge too far.'"
Land said that his involvement with ICOM was not a promotion of Islam, but he said this was the perception of many in the convention.
"Southern Baptists have the oft-expressed right to form their own perceptions as well as the right to expect their denominational servant to be cognizant of them and to respect them," Land said in a statement. "I serve Southern Baptists."
The departure of Land comes days after the coalition sent a letter supporting the right of a Muslim group to build a mosque in Temecula, California. The mosque received approval from the Temecula City Council in December, but there is a hearing Tuesday night on an appeal to overturn the council decision. The ICOM stated that reversing the decision would be a violation of federal law. Land is listed as a member of the ICOM in the letter.
Concerned American Citizens filed the appeal, viewing the mosque as a cover for the promotion of Shariah Law. The mosque in question will be built on land adjacent to Calvary Baptist Church (not associated with the SBC). The church opposes the building of the mosque for both practical reasons, such as land use, but also because it, too, believes Islam promotes Shariah law and the destruction of religious liberty.
"The religious philosophy of Islam is directly contradictory and confrontational to the Christian faith we espouse. Putting a mosque within feet of a Baptist church exacerbates those differences," wrote Calvary Baptist pastor William Rench in a letter to the city council supporting the appeal.
The IOCM support for the Temecula mosque is its first since it supported the right of a Muslim group to build an Islamic center in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Land also publicly supported the right of the mosque in Murfreesboro to be built.
ADL National Director Abraham Foxman released a statement to the Associated Press on Land's decision, saying, "We respect Richard Land. We respect his decision. We wish it were otherwise."
Buster Wilson of the American Family Association (AFA) criticized Land for his support of the mosque and his membership in the IOCM.
"[Land] has joined a group is now filing court briefs to HELP Muslims get mosques built in this country. Fight for their RIGHT, but don't help them advance a 'gospel' that is no gospel at all and will send people to hell," Wilson wrote on AFA's blog.
The ERLC responded within hours of Wilson's criticism. It emphasized that Land opposed the building of an Islamic center near the site of the World Trade Center attack (as did the ADL) but that he supports religious freedom of Muslims to build mosques in their communities.
"Richard Land defends the right of American Muslims to build their houses of worship (mosques) in places where they live. He is NOT involved in efforts to encourage or aid the building of those mosques. He is only involved in legal efforts to defend American Muslims who are having their legal rights under the First Amendment denied or curtailed by zoning commissions and city councils," the ERLC said in a statement.