(Photo: Reuters / Jason Reed)
President Barack Obama is hosting a third annual celebration of the Muslim holiday Ramadan at the White House Wednesday night, maintaining a tradition that Southern Baptist leader Richard Land says rightly affirms freedom of religion for all faiths.
Land reminds Christians and other believers that they can affirm freedom for different religions while still differing with their doctrine.
Obama will lead an Iftar dinner, the meal that breaks the day of fasting, in the State Dining Room. In doing so, he continues a tradition that began annually under President Bill Clinton and was also observed during President George W. Bush’s tenure in the White House.
"I was one of the people who supported President Bush when he had a Ramadan observance in the White House shortly after 9/11," said Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
Land is also executive editor for The Christian Post.
Land praised President Obama's Ramadan observance, saying it shows his allegiance to preserve the rights of all Americans.
"In America, we have a choice: we can try and make the White House a religion-free zone or we can have a White House where we acknowledge and respect all the faiths of the people who live in our country," he described. "I think the latter is far more in keeping with the spirit of the Constitution and with the pluralism we say we believe in."
In recent years, religious freedoms have frequently come under attack. There have been several challenges to public days of prayer, circumcision and mosques.
Land suggests to Christians that they should respect all faiths. However, he also clarifies that does not mean Christians must also accept and support different doctrines.
Respect, he said, "does not mean that all faiths are equally true." Genuine respect, Land identified, means that "all faiths have an equal right to the public square."
Land says it is essential for Christians to understand the same freedoms that allow evangelicals to lawfully practice their faith also enable Muslims to lawfully practice theirs.
"There are no footnotes in the Bill of Rights," Land said, explaining there are no notations in the Constitution suggesting certain rights are only for certain people.
"One of the rights guaranteed in the Constitution is the right to freedom of worship. So Muslims have the right to have mosques," he continued.
He warns that attempts to seek legal protections against Muslims can have repercussions for the Christian faith.
"So if we allow the government to put regulations or prohibitions on Mormons going door-to-door, knocking on doors, witnessing for their faith, then the government will keep us from doing it tomorrow. If we allow restrictions on mosques today, they can put restrictions on churches tomorrow," Land cautioned.
President Obama, in a show of interfaith fellowship, has invited elected officials, leaders of diverse faiths and Muslim-American leaders and community members to dine together with him and his family. Notable guests include Arizona Cardinals Safety Hamza Abdullah and his brother Husain Abdullah, a safety for the Minnesota Vikings.