The very idea of freedom presupposes some objective moral law which overarches rulers and ruled alike. Unless we return to the crude and nursery-like belief in objective values, we perish. – C.S. Lewis
Everything in a culture happens within a framework. Everything. There is no neutrality. The only question is, which framework is being used.
From the fall of the Roman Empire until the recent past, the framework of western culture was Christianity. Within that framework arose respect for individual rights, representative government, separation of powers, capitalism and a host of other things that allowed western nations to flourish in ways unprecedented in human history. Not that there was some golden age when everyone in the culture was Christian or that Christian principles were always followed but the framework was nonetheless a Christian one.
In fact, the accusation that western nations have been hypocritical because of support for things like slavery is evidence of their Christian underpinning. It’s not hypocrisy if you violate principles you don’t claim to believe. In other words, the admission that the west has not always acted in concert with Christian teaching is also an admission that she should have done – because that is the framework under which the society operated.
So, when we discuss religious liberty, it’s important to realize it doesn’t exists in a vacuum. And, as history will attest, it is by no means a given. Religious liberty must have suitable soil in which to grow. It occurs or fails to occur within a framework. And the framework under which it arose and in which it flourishes is a Christian one, particularly a Protestant Christian one.
By contrast, the idea there can be multiple religions within a society, each free to exist and to worship as its adherents see fit is foreign in Islam. The biblical teaching that church and civil government have distinct but complementary roles is non-existent. There is no equivalent of the first amendment in Islamic cultures. Therefore, any discussion of religious freedom for Muslims in western nations must take this into account. Jeff Myers and David Noebel in their book “Understanding the Times: A Survey of Competing Worldviews” say:
In contrast to a biblical Christian view of the nature of humanity, the Muslim community cannot, within its religion, find a sound basis for individual freedom. Adherence is demanded, those who leave it are in danger of their lives, those who choose not to belong are in danger of subjugation or death, and basic human rights are violated as a matter of course.
Myers and Noebel also quote Samuel Shahid:
Through the course of history, except in rare cases, not even Muslims have been given freedom to criticize Islam without being persecuted or sentenced to death. It is far less likely for a Zimmi [dhimmi Christian or Jew living in Muslim-dominated lands] to get away with criticizing Islam.
Given this, should Muslims in the United States be free to build mosques and worship their god as their religion teaches? Yes, within the framework of the culture. If that sounds like I’m saying there should be limits on what Muslims can and cannot do in pursuit of their religion in the United States, it’s because I am saying that. What I’m describing is freedom within a framework. For example, female genital mutilation, though not practiced by all Muslims, is a practice in many Muslim cultures that has been exported to the United States. While libertarian* freedom of religion may allow such things, freedom within a framework says the practice crosses a cultural and legal boundary and is unacceptable in the United States. In other words, it’s outside the framework and cannot be allowed even in the name of religious liberty. The same would be true, by the way, for a church that wanted to practice polygamy.
This is the kind of freedom God gives, freedom within a framework:
“And the LORD God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” – Genesis 2:16-17
We are not free to do absolutely anything but only those things within the boundaries set by God. Any parent will tell you raising children with no boundaries within which to corral their freedom is a recipe for disaster. The same is true for cultures. Apart from boundaries, cultures cease to exist.
Freedom within a framework allows for ethnic communities to maintain their rich heritage while preventing those communities becoming isolated “no-go zones” with their own laws and governance. Freedom within a framework allows immigration of people from all nationalities and faiths while allowing government, in its God-ordained role as protector of the innocent, to restrict immigration when needed. Freedom within a framework allows the Quran to be sold and Islam to be practiced openly while protecting those who are critical of its teachings from being attacked or harassed.
But why must the framework be Christian? Frankly, because that is the only framework that’s shown itself capable of supporting freedom of religion historically. Everywhere Islam has been ascendant, religious liberty has been crushed or severely curtailed. Everywhere secularism or atheism has been ascendant religious liberty has eventually ceased to exist. The same can be said for paganism. While the Romans allowed multiple religions to coexist in the empire, they were unwilling to allow a religion claiming to be the one true religion so only polytheists had freedom of religion. There are many reasons this is so but the main one is that Christianity is true and the others are false – and lies are never willing to coexist peacefully with the truth. Christianity, on the other hand, has nothing to fear from the teaching in the Mosque down the street or the Hindu Temple across town.
So, our goal should not be libertarian freedom of religion, such a thing is unsustainable anyway, especially in the face of a religion like Islam whose goal is to dominate and rule any culture in which it exists. Our goal must be freedom of religion within a Christian framework because that is the only kind of religious liberty that can be sustained. I remember a man named John Rosenberg who was a Jewish diamond merchant my grandparents did business with at their store. He was a child in Germany during the 1930s and was eventually in a concentration camp until the end of the Second World War. He told me of growing up in Germany, a place that had abandoned its Christian culture by that time. He said it was not until he came to America after the war that he knew what it was to walk down the street without being called a “dirty Jew.” It wasn’t until he was in the Christian framework of American culture that this devoted Jew found religious freedom.
*Though I’m not referring to the Libertarian Party, Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson has said in opposition to recent religious liberty legislation, “Under the guise of religious freedom, anybody can do anything…Why shouldn’t somebody be able to shoot somebody else because their freedom of religion says that God has spoken to them and that they can shoot somebody dead?”