Evangelical leaders unanimously affirmed that they support the same religious freedom protection for people of non-Christian faiths as for Christians, according to the January Evangelical Leaders Survey.
In this survey, evangelical leaders deviate from the general American population that places a higher priority on preserving the religious freedom of some groups rather than others.
“Evangelical leaders believe religious freedom is a basic human right for all people, and that protecting the religious freedom for people of other faiths is protecting their own freedom,” said Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE).
In May 2016, the NAE joined with nearly 20 civil rights and religious groups in asking a court to support a Muslim group that sought permission to build a mosque in a suburban New Jersey community, but faced hostility and opposition from protesters, illegal obstruction, and delays by the local zoning board for nearly a decade. The court ruled in the group’s favor on the basis of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, a law that the NAE was instrumental in passing.
“The freedom to practice any religion — or no religion at all — is basic to religious liberty. When Christians advocate for religious liberty, we are not seeking a special privilege for Christians, but promoting a basic human right for all people,” said Philip Ryken, president of Wheaton College.
William Bohline, founding pastor of Hosanna! Lutheran Church, agreed, “If religious freedom is not extended to other religions, then it is simply ‘Christian freedom,’ a narrow and exclusive ‘freedom,’ which is not freedom at all.”
“Religious freedom protection for people of all faiths was a concern and clear provision provided by our founding fathers at the very beginning of our nation,” said Paul Cedar, chairman of Mission America Coalition. “It needs to be preserved at this very important time in the history of the United States of America.”
Steve Moore, president of nexleader, considered implications for Christians in other countries. “How could we ask Muslim countries to grant freedom of religion to Jesus-followers in their country if we don’t grant it for all religions in the United States?” he asked.
Several leaders qualified that religious freedom needs to have reasonable limits. For example, the government should protect its people against violence and crime, even if a religious group endorses such practices.
“Supporting religious freedom for all does not mean we endorse other religions, but we recognize that our government should protect its people’s ability to choose and practice their religious faith,” Anderson said.
The Evangelical Leaders Survey is a monthly poll of the Board of Directors of the National Association of Evangelicals. They include the CEOs of denominations and representatives of a broad array of evangelical organizations including missions, universities, publishers and churches.