An influential Southern Baptist withdrew from an interfaith coalition that assists in protecting Muslims against discrimination with regard to building mosques in the U.S.
Dr. Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, made the announcement Friday after fellow Southern Baptists had expressed concerns with his involvement in the Interfaith Coalition on Mosques, established by the Anti-Defamation League.
"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 wrote in a letter to the ADL, according to Baptist Press.
The coalition was formed in September amid what it called "a disturbing rise in discrimination against Muslims trying to legally build or expand their houses of worship."
Religious leaders from various faith traditions – Catholic, Protestant, evangelical, Muslim and Jewish – shared mutual concerns over the "hostility" and "hate speech" surrounding recent mosque building projects in Tennessee, Wisconsin and California.
"We believe the best way to uphold America's democratic values is to ensure that Muslims can exercise the same religious freedom enjoyed by everyone in America," the coalition affirms in its statement of purpose. "They deserve nothing less than to have a place of worship like everyone else."
Land has been vocal in his call for the respect of religious freedom, though he opposes the planned Islamic cultural center and mosque in New York City, calling it inappropriate.
He affirmed, "Baptists have been victimized by such religious discrimination in the past. We should always remember that if we allow the government to discriminate against one religion today, they can discriminate against all religions tomorrow. We should not make a religious belief illegal or treat it differently than we treat other religious beliefs in the law."
The ERLC has made clear that though Land defends the right of Muslims building mosques, 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."
Still, his decision to join the interfaith coalition to "stand together to fight for the rights of our Muslim neighbors when they are being violated" was met with criticism from fellow Southern Baptists.
Many felt that he was "crossing the line from defense of religious freedom to advocacy of, or promotion of, Islam itself," as reported by BP.
After listening to concerns, Land expressed "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."
The Southern Baptist Convention is the largest Protestant denomination in the U.S. with over 16 million members.
Other religious leaders on the Interfaith Coalition on Mosques include Dr. Joel C. Hunter, senior pastor of Northland, A Church Distributed; Bishop Paul Peter Jesep, American Representative for the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church; Rabbi Elliot Cosgrove, Senior Rabbi, Park Avenue Synagogue; and Ambassador Akbar Ahmed, Chair of Islamic Studies, American University.