Friday, April 17, 2009

Religious Liberty and the Disturbing Case of Taha Abdul-Basser

(HT: SBC Today)Dr. Emir Caner, the new President of Truett-McConnell College in Cleveland, Georgia, has posted an excellent article on his new blog (here's his RSS feed) touching upon the disturbing case of Taha Abdul-Basser, Islamic chaplain at Harvard University. An email from Abdul-Basser has leaked into the public domain in which he expresses a coziness with the idea of capital punishment for those who leave Islam for any other religious faith.

It is my considered opinion that the ongoing (regardless of what the White House may tell you) war on terror is indeed a religious war. It is not, however, a war between Christianity and Islam, as some like to style it. Rather, it is a war between those who believe in religious liberty and those who spurn it.

Abdul-Basser's situation raises an interesting question: Does religious liberty include the liberty not to believe in religious liberty?

A differentiation between religious toleration and religious liberty is in order at this point. Religious toleration is the situation in which the government does not punish a person for his religious convictions, but may endorse a particular religious conviction through subsidy or preferential legislation. Religious liberty is the situation in which the government neither persecutes nor endorses any of the competing religious points of view. Baptists have historically been champions not only of religious toleration but further of religious liberty.

So, does religious liberty include the liberty not to believe in religious liberty? In posing the question, I'm not so much asking whether Abdul-Basser ought to be thrown into the clink for his willingness to countenance an "off with their heads" response to Islamic infidelity. I think that religious toleration certainly should be extended even to those who support the idea that Islamic infidelity merits the death penalty. After all, Abdul-Basser is simply being faithful to the clear teachings of his scriptures and his religious tradition. For that he ought not to be punished.

And yet, I do not believe that opposition to religious liberty should enjoy the benefits of religious liberty. In other words, I do believe that the United States of America can establish, should establish, and has established an official position on the admittedly religious doctrine of whether there ought to be liberty of religious conscience. At this point, the Constitution of the United States of America says that Abdul-Basser and the Hadith and Mohammed are all wrong. And Abdul-Basser knows it, citing "the absence of Muslim governmental authority" as one of the practical factors (along with "the hegemonic modern human rights discourse") making it impractical for Moslems actually to execute infidels in the West quite yet.

The United States of America should not be alone in her position; Harvard University should take a stand for religious liberty as well, by censoring Abdul-Basser for his remarks.


bapticus hereticus said...

Bart: ... not ... a war between Christianity and Islam, as some like to style it.

bapticus hereticus: See current issue of Harpers. It is reported that some US soldiers do wish to make it a religious war and some paint "Jesus killed Mohammed" on their vehicles. Things are difficult enough; they don't need to be made more difficult with such insensitivity.

volfan007 said...


I'm a believer in religious toleration and religious liberty, but if the guy is promoting killing those who dont believe like him...I dont know. Just how far should we go? Didnt the govt. come against the Mormons a while back after they attacked some people who didnt believe like they did? You're the historian. Didnt it happen in Illinois way back sometime?

I guess I'd be for not crossing that line...if someone's religion believed in killing others for not believing like they do. And, I guess, that'd make me be against Islam period...would it not?


r. grannemann said...

A person is not jailed for thinking someone should be killed, but for committing murder or inciting violence. (Some Christians may believe that homosexuals should be stoned, for exampled, but they are not jailed for their belief.) If it could be shown, however, that Taha Abdul-Basser incited someone to actually commit murder, then he could be punished according to the law.

The Constitution presently protects religious liberty. But the electorate, an Islamic majority for example should it ever occur, could always change the Constitution.

Dave Miller said...

Saw something interesting.

"Bible-carrying Barber throws intruder through the the door"

Was that you?

Big Daddy Weave said...

Does religious liberty include the liberty not to believe in religious liberty?

Sure. But, if the answer was NO - would you really be a proponent of religious liberty?

To summarize Jefferson:

religious belief is absolute; religious practice is not

Jefferson was quoted by the majority in the famous Mormon case of Reynolds v. United States:
"the legislative powers of the government reach actions only, and not opinions"

Under our Constitution, it is not the right to liberty of religious conscience but the broader right to liberty of conscience. As the conscientious objector cases proved, the right of conscience extends to those whose convictions are not religious - including the atheist, secularist, etc.

Bart Barber said...


Certainly the United States of America extends religious toleration with regard to people who oppose the idea of religious liberty. Yet...

1. The United States of America has established as the law of the land the position affirming religious liberty.

2. Those who do not believe in religious liberty are nonetheless forced to contribute tax dollars allocated to the defense and spread of religious liberty.

3. Adherents of religions like Islam that advocate the fusion of church and state are forced to adapt their religious beliefs to conform to the model of religious liberty practiced in the United States of America.

4. The state reserves the right to conscript those who do not believe in religious liberty (but otherwise are not conscientious objectors to war) into the armed forces to defend religious liberty.

We tolerate those who do not believe in religious liberty, but religious liberty is the one official religious doctrine of the United States of America.

Bart Barber said...

This post depends heavily upon the manner in which I have differentiated...

1. Religious toleration...


2. Religious liberty

Anonymous said...


Thanks for posting about this. This is a serious issue, and should be discussed.

The answer to this issue is not that hard. This prof should be dismissed.

He has not committed a crime. But universities in this country should not have professors who believe or advocate such things.

Maybe someone should give a heads up to the Department of Homeland Security. Maybe they can begin looking into professors who advocate the death penalty when a person changes their religion, issue a report and keep them on the watch list.


From the Middle East said...

Brother Bart,

Excellent post! I love the distinction you draw between liberty and tolerance. And I am definitely a supporter of both. Good stuff.

I am not sure that, like Brother Luis, I would want this professor dismissed. If Harvard wants a good mixture of liberal, moderate and conservative Islamic theologians, they will definitely end up with some who advocate capital punishment for apostasy. I do struggle greatly with this due to my absolute disagreement with the doctrine itself, but it is a university and I would hope they have profs from the whole spectrum (liberal to conservative) for all religious traditions... certainly would not want them dismissing a Christian prof for teaching that homosexuality is an abomination to God! If he was inciting people to violence, that would be different, but it does not sound as if he is from this quote.

On a somewhat related note: Does anyone know if there are Jewish theologians who are faithful to the Old Testament and still advocate capital punishment for apostasy?

Peace to you brother,
From the Middle east