(Photo: Reuters / Sean Gardner)
Southern Baptist leader Richard Land chided presidential candidate Herman Cain for disregarding the constitutional rights of U.S. Muslims during a Monday C-SPAN interview. He reminded Cain that as a Christian and an African American, he should have a special interest in the enforcement of the constitution in all communities, not just approving ones.
Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, addressed the businessman turned presidential candidate in a Monday broadcast saying, "Don't throw out the baby with the bath, Mr. Cain."
Last week, Cain told reporters that the plan to build the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro in Rutherford County, Tenn., is "an infringement and an abuse of our freedom of religion." He sided with community members who have protested the center saying the center is "another way to gradually sneak Sharia law into our laws."
Cain, an associate pastor at Antioch Baptist Church North and a GOP presidential hopeful, argued last week that the ICM is not an "innocent mosque" and warned of the threat of Sharia (Islamic law) to American laws. He asserted in a Sunday Fox News interview that the Murfreesboro community has the right to ban the center's construction.
Land said he agrees that allowing Sharia law in the courts is unconstitutional, as it also violates the rights of women. He agreed that it should not be enforced in America's legal system or government, but reminded the public that that the First Amendment allows for religious freedom.
"I think the First Amendment is one of those amendments that is too important and protects rights that are too central to our guaranteed rights in this country to be left with a local option," he asserted.
Like Christians, Muslims have the right to have places of worship near where they live, Land said.
Additionally, Muslims and Christians have the shared right to abide by the rules of their faith as long as that faith is not imposed on the government, he argued.
Muslim women in America have a right to choose to be veiled and abide by Sharia in their marriages. Land said that he would fight to the death to protect Christians' right to abide by biblical precepts in their marriages.
Similarly he contended, "I defend to the death of their (Muslims’) right" to marry according to their customs.
The Southern Baptist also asserted that Cain, who boasts that he is the descendent of slaves, should defend Muslims' rights under the Constitution so that they are upheld in every community, city and state.
"Mr. Cain of all people, as an African American, should understand that our civil rights have to be guaranteed on a federal level," he said. "I don't think he would want to leave the civil rights of an African American to the local voters in Philadelphia and Mississippi where they buried three civil rights workers – one black, two white – under a dam after they had killed them."
Cain defended his views on Muslims Sunday evening, telling blogger Robert Stacy McCain, "I don't back down one iota from my statement."
He further defended a previous statement in which he said he would not be comfortable having a Muslim in his administration. That is not discriminatory, Cain asserted, but rather him being cautious.
He deflected discrimination claims, saying, "No, it's not the same type of discrimination that went on in this country in the 50s and 60s."
Cain said attorneys defending ICM opponents in court told him that they know for a fact that the extremist group the Muslim Brotherhood is behind the center's construction.
Those who make accusations of discrimination, Cain said, are trying to intimidate Americans from discussing the threat of Sharia in this country.
Plans for the ICM reveal the building will house a mosque, an Islamic school and sports center for its followers to worship and gather in. Its website describes the ICM's work as "in line with the Islamic rules and the USA laws."
Residents opposing the expansion of an existing mosque in Murfreesboro protested in the streets last year, charging that the county had not properly informed them of ICM's plans. Residents later sued the county. During the November 2010 trial, Attorney Joe Brandon Jr. peppered officials with questions about Islamic customs and Sharia law.
A county judge ruled to allow the mosque to continue building the center, assumed to be well over 50,000 square feet in size once completed.
Opponents of the mosque remain undaunted in their efforts. They are currently appealing the ruling.