Gerald Harris, Editor of Georgia's Christian Index, recently published an editorial which proved to be quite provocative. Entitled "Do Muslims Really Qualify for Religious Liberty Benefits?" Harris questioned whether modern terrorist Islam is more a "geo-political movement" engaged in a violent aggressive goal to invade American borders and kill American infidels rather than a peaceful religion protected by first amendment rights. Harris was clear he was not questioning the historic Baptist notion of universal religious liberty—that is, religious liberty is not limited to Christian believers, but religious liberty is inclusive of believers of all faiths or even no faiths.
However, Harris did seem to question whether religious liberty was absolute—that is, whether terrorist religious groups like modern Islam breeds may legally hide under the protection of first amendment freedom of religion rights. Though Harris did not say it like this, it seems fair to his reasoning to conclude he was raising the question that while religious liberty must be universal, religious liberty cannot be absolute.
Consequently, while all things being equal, all people must be free to worship or not worship God according to his or her conscience and do so without civil intervention, it does not follow that those who believe or propose the death of infidels as core religious doctrine should be protected under first amendment rights.
Not all appeared to accept Harris' editorial as baptistically sound. Texas pastor, Bart Barber fired off a white hot screed against Harris implicating him in managing to do what no Baptist in history has ever done—deny universal religious liberty. Barber suggested a grade-school student could have proposed a better argument than he, ultimately challenging the Baptist editor to take some time to study the issue and then rescind his unworthy notion.1
Piling on more, three scholarly Fellows affiliated with Russell Moore and the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission contacted Baptist Press and requested it publish an "open letter" in which they raised a number of issues with Harris' editorial. Chief among them was the constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion for all people (including Muslims). However, once again, Harris did not deny universal religious liberty. Rather he seemed to deny absolute religious liberty, a denial which not only seems reasonable, but also seems embedded even within Anabaptism.
Allow me to show you what I mean.
Balthasar Hubmaier is considered by many to be one of the greatest theologians of the Reformation. As a "father" of sorts of the Anabaptist movement, Hubmaier also stands as an icon of religious liberty. Going further than the magisterial reformers, Hubmaier argued for a separation of powers between church and state, arguing religious liberty without persecution against theological dissenters.
When Hans Hut showed up in Nikolsburg at the end of 1526, he immediately incited Hubmaier's attention with his preaching concerning the day of the Lord. Hut, along with a group of local fanatical Anabaptists led by Jacob Widemann, preached the day of the Lord was at hand, and the mission of God's people was to take up the sword of the Lord against ungodly rulers. Civil authorities intervened with the ultimate result of detaining Hans Hut under arrest. However, instead of defending Hut's religious liberty, Hubmaier sided with the civil authorities in arresting Hut!
Perhaps it's because while Hubmaier embraced without qualification universal religious liberty, he did not embrace absolute religious liberty. Though Hans Hut established his views from biblical texts, he nonetheless was committing gross uncivil atrocities by inciting death to ungodly rulers and apparently forfeiting his right to religious freedom.
Consider: how would Hubmaier's view, in principle, be different from Harris' view?
1Barber has published another piece since the Orlando tragedy just a few days ago, a tragedy where 49 men and women were sadly gunned down in an Orlando, Florida nightclub. The killer was a radical Islamist. Barber's more recent piece, after considering the clarifications he makes on universal religious liberty, looks amazingly similar in significant ways to Harris' view.