I’ve heard and read a lot of arguments about why it’s in bad taste for a mosque to be built
right on top of two blocks away from Ground Zero, and about how it would be hurtful to the survivors of the people killed on that day if the mosque is built — even if we distinguish between the Sufis who want to build the mosque and the Sunnis who made the attack happen, because the Sufis and the Sunnis have common religious beliefs.
I’ve heard and read some arguments to the effect that if a mosque is built
right on top of two blocks away from Ground Zero, the Muslims will have “won,” it would be a “statement” that Sharia law is coming to America, or it demonstrates “weakness” by America.
I’ve heard and read a lot of arguments about why it’s going to set interfaith relationships back for years if a mosque is built
right on top of two blocks away from Ground Zero. I’ve heard and read claims that mosques can be built elsewhere than right on top of two blocks away from Ground Zero, although I notice that people are trying to stop mosques from being built in places like Murfreesboro, Tennessee; Temecula, California; and Sheboygan, Wisconsin, too — and these are not places well-known to have been the sites of conflict between Islam and the United States.
I’ve heard and read some discussion about why the imam who would preside at the mosque to be built
right on top of two blocks away from Ground Zero has said some questionable things about Islam and America, and about 9/11 (he’s also said some rather commendable things that seems worthy of support). I’ve also heard and read a lot of speculation and fear about where the money to build a mosque right on top of two blocks away from Ground Zero is going to come from.
But what I haven’t read or heard, anywhere, is an argument about how, consistent with the United States Constitution, any of the above matters one tiny little bit. The legal issue is: “Can the City, County, or State of New York, or the United States of America, prohibit the building of a mosque at this site?” The closest thing I can get to an anti-mosque advocate addressing this issue is something like this comment:
I also find myself getting annoyed with pundits on the Libertarian right who are sanctimoniously hiding behind an absolute freedom of religion argument and refusing to acknowledge any other concerns or factors, sometimes to the point of accusing those of us opposed to the mosque of being bigots or knee-jerk Islamophobes. They also ignore the nature of Islam and what the mosque symbolizes: not just a place of worship, but also the dominance and superiority of Islam and sharia law. In a place where thousands were murdered in Islam’s name, that is unacceptable, and it is not protected by the 1st amendment.
Maybe this commenter isn’t a bigot or a knee-jerk Islamophobe. Now, there are plenty of bigots and knee-jerk Islamophobes out there objecting to the building of mosques (whether they be in Manhattan or Murfreesboro or Sheboygan or Temecula) but let’s apply the principle of charity here and look only at the argument made, not make unfounded presumptions about the motivation of the person making the argument. (My doing so requires that the arguer cease using words like “sanctimonious” to describe those who, like me, claim the contrary result, by the way.)
The substantive claim is that Islam is subversive to American values and law (“the nature of Islam,” “what the mosque symbolizes: …. the dominance and superiority of Islam and sharia law”). This is a viewpoint-specific restriction on a First Amendment freedom — either of free speech or free exercise. So the rule is, and can only be, “Would you also restrict Christianity in this way?” Obviously not. Now, one might ask, what Christians have engaged in acts of unprovoked mass terrorism, and are there any churches of the same religion as the terrorists located near the site of their terrible attack? After all, we wouldn’t let, for instance, the LDS church build a site commemorating a brutal attack by Mormons on Native Americans, coincidentally also occurring on September 11, would we?
America is full of sites of people motivated by religion who have done terrible things, and we don’t blame their coreligionists for the bad things people have done while claiming to act in the name of God, and if they God they were acting in the name of happens to be the Christian God, well, the religion itself seems to get a pass, where Islam does not. And lest we claim that “Islam is a violent, cruel religion,” and back that up with citations from the Koran, let us not forget that the Christian Bible, too, has many cruel, violent passages — maybe more, depending on how you count them.
The question is not whether we as a people like Christianity or Islam more. The question is, can the City, County, or State of New York, or the United States of America, prohibit the building of a mosque at this particular site? The answer is “no.” The Constitutional case is simple, open-and-shut, with the inevitable and predictable conclusion being that we have no choice but to allow and tolerate the mosque at this location.
Nothing I have said here would prohibit someone who thinks a mosque at this location would be a bad idea from engaging in peace protest outside the mosque once it is built, or its construction site while it is being built. Nothing I have said here would prohibit someone who thinks a mosque at this location would be a bad idea from boycotting businesses owned by people who patronize the mosque, from refusing to work on the construction of the building, or encouraging people to refuse to work on the construction of the building. Nothing I have said here would prohibit someone who thinks a mosque at this location would be a bad idea from trying to raise money of their own to buy the site (if the owners are willing to sell) or a site near it so as to build something they think would be more appropriate.
Finally, nothing I have said here would prohibit someone who thinks a mosque at this location would be a bad idea from trying to persuade the owners of the site to go about pursuing their goals in a different way or at a different location. Because nothing I have heard or read anywhere seems to be addressed to the owners of the property. It has all been addressed to the general public or to some level of the government. What we’re talking about here is the First Amendment. The First Amendment gives everyone the power to try and persuade each other of the correctness of their point of view, and the government has to keep its hands off that sort of persuasion. What bugs me most is the appeal — either explicit or implicit — to use the power of the government to stop American citizens from peacefully using their own property as they see fit.