In 1998, the Southern Baptist Convention condemned a 1997 Supreme Court ruling against a claim that churches enjoy a virtually unlimited right to build wherever they wish. The Court ruled in City of Boerne v. Flores that a municipality may enforce reasonable zoning restrictions against a Catholic church on a non-sectarian basis. In other words, the restriction could not be based upon religious belief.
Right Wing Watch points out that the SBC called the Supreme Court ruling “one of the worst decisions rendered by the Supreme Court in its long history.”
This week, both the SBC and Focus on the Family contradicted themselves: They applauded — and misinterpreted — the ruling. Focus on the Family’s CitizenLink sided with the SBC’s Richard Land, stating that government should block construction of houses of worship if a community objects.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., an ardent proponent of the president’s agenda, was quick to move away from Obama’s statement, and said on Monday that the mosque “should be built somewhere else.”
Dr. Richard Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission for the Southern Baptist Convention, said even though the vast majority of Muslims condemn the 9/11 attacks, building a mosque near Ground Zero is “unacceptable.”
“As a Baptist who believes in religious freedom and separation of church and state, I strongly support religious communities’ right to have places of worship within reasonable distance of where they live,” Land said. “However, no religious community has an absolute right to have a place of worship wherever they choose, regardless of the community’s objections.”
What Focus didn’t say:
1. After the 1997 Supreme Court ruling, Congress passed — under pressure from the Christian Right — the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act which restored the ability of religious institutions to disregard local government objections to land use.
2. Unlike the Supreme Court, Focus and the SBC now contend that Big Government should discriminate against proposed religious facilities on the basis of undesired religious belief, not on the basis of zoning concerns.
The Family Research Council, a spinoff of Focus, helpfully identifies the religious affiliations that should be exempt from its desired government crackdown:
“Evangelicals, Catholics, Lutherans, Orthodox Jews.”