WASHINGTON -- The free exercise of religion is too vital to allow communities to restrict it, Southern Baptist ethicist Richard Land said July 18 in response to presidential candidate Herman Cain's support for a local ban on the building of a Muslim mosque.
The president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission was asked on C-SPAN's "Washington Journal" television program to respond to the Republican's endorsement of any local government's prohibiting construction of a mosque in its community.
"First of all, I would respectfully encourage him to read the First Amendment to the Constitution, where it says that the government shall not interfere with the free exercise of religion," Land said, adding 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. Mr. Cain, of all people, as an African American, should understand that our civil rights have to be guaranteed at a federal level."
On "Fox News Sunday" July 17, Cain said he opposes the building of a new mosque in Murfreesboro, Tenn., whose residents, he said, "are objecting to the fact that Islam is both religion and [a] set of laws, Shariah law."
The United States Constitution "guarantees separation of church and state," Cain said. "Islam combines church and state."
Land said, "Muslims have a right to have places of worship. ... Shariah law is unconstitutional. Shariah law violates the First Amendment, which guarantees separation of church and state and guarantees separation of mosque and state. Secondly, it violates the clauses that protect equal rights, because under Shariah law women do not have equal rights.
"I would say, 'Don't throw out the baby with the bath, Mr. Cain.' Muslims have a right to have places of worship, maybe not places of worship exactly where they want to have them, because that's why we have zoning laws.... If they're trying to promote Shariah law or impose Shariah law at any level, that's unconstitutional."
Land's responses to other questions from C-SPAN host Paul Orgel and viewers included:
-- On federal debt, Land said of President Obama's July 12 comment he could not guarantee Social Security checks would be mailed in August if the debt ceiling is not raised: "[I]f the Social Security checks don't go out, it's because the president is demagoguing and fear-mongering, because the government takes in right now about $200 billion a month, and Social Security checks are $50 billion. We can pay the interest on what we owe, and we can pay the Social Security checks, and we can pay the $35 million that's Medicare and Medicaid and not default. So that would be a choice the president makes. And I think it's despicable that he is trying to scare Social Security recipients into thinking that if we don't raise the debt ceiling they're not going to get their checks. If they don't get their Social Security checks, it will be a choice by the Obama administration and his secretary of the Treasury."
-- On what should be cut from federal spending: "Well, almost everything. When you're looking at a budget that's as seriously out of whack as this one is, I would say, first of all, I have seen very few budgets that couldn't take a five percent cut. So I would have a five per cent across the board cut. And then secondly, we can start with the $200 billion in 38 duplicate and wasteful programs [according to an estimate by Sen. Tom Coburn, R.-Okla., based on a Government Accountability Office report] that don't do any good. Now that's a good place to start."
He also said Planned Parenthood, the country's leading abortion provider, and National Public Radio should not receive federal money.
-- On the problem with the federal government: "In a country as wealthy as ours we should be looking out for the health and welfare of the people, within the ability of the government and the ability of the country to pay.... We can't do everything, and that's part of the problem. Washington has been trying to do everything, and they've been kicking the can down the road, and they've now reached the place where we can no longer kick it down the road ..."
-- On the suggestions churches should be taxed: "If you want to tax all the other non-profit, charitable entities, then you can tax churches. But until you do that ... you shouldn't tax churches.... So I would say churches shouldn't be treated any differently than all the other charitable, non-profit organizations in the country."
-- On his favorite 2012 candidate for president: "Oh, I don't have one, and if I did I wouldn't tell you, because I don't endorse candidates. It's no secret that I am pro-life. I am going to vote for a pro-life candidate. But which one? That's up to them.... Every time in the primaries, I try to vote for the person that is pro-life that I think would make the best president."
-- On Texas Gov. Rick Perry's possible entrance in the Republican presidential field: "This race is shaping up as [Mitt] Romney versus somebody, Romney versus the anti-Romney, and Romney's the establishment candidate.... I think it's a fight between the other candidates to become the anti-Romney candidate."
Video of Land's 47-minute appearance on C-SPAN may be accessed online athttp://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/ElectionsandRe.