There have been a lot of debates and protests lately surrounding the proposed mosque and community center near Ground Zero (known by various names: Park51, Cordoba House, “the mosque”). Many Christians and other conservatives are speaking out against it. One candidate for New York State governor, Republican Carl Paladino, even promised that he would use eminent domain to block it.
That is correct: After years of conservatives fighting for the First Amendment, and fighting against eminent domain, we have a conservative who wants to use eminent domain to fight against the First Amendment. Now you know why I am not impressed with either major political party. The “conservative, God-friendly” party can act just like the demons in the liberal party when it suits them!
Personally, I do not want to see the mosque built so close to the World Trade Center site. However, there is a conflict between personal preferences, public sentiment, and the basic rights that we Americans enjoy.
Since the First Amendment guarantees all Americans the right to practice their religion of choice, there is no Constitutional reason to oppose the building of a mosque. However, that is just too close to the site of 9/11. It is essentially a slap in the face to our nation, and especially to those whose lives were directly affected by the events of that day.
However, there is a real danger when we ask the government to block the mosque. Today, it is an Islamic center just 600 feet away from the most devastating terrorist attack in US history. Tomorrow, the precedents set in this case could be used to block the building of a Christian church somewhere. Maybe residents will not want certain minority or ethnic groups worshipping in their neighborhood.
This is not a minor consideration. Today’s court ruling, executive decision, or other government action becomes tomorrow’s precedent, to be repeated in ever-broadening “similar situations.” We cannot assume that the argument is only about a mosque. It is about the nature of freedom of religion.
Do we want to give the government the precedent and the authority to claim a parcel of land for its own purposes, just to stop a particular church or synagogue from worshiping there? Do we want our rights to religious freedom to be determined by public opinion polls or the popularity of their beliefs? That is not a world I want to live in. It is not fitting for a nation that boasts of itself as “the land of the free and the home of the brave.”
The organizers of the mosque and community center claim they want to create a “center for multifaith dialogue and engagement.” If they want to foster multifaith dialogue, a good-faith first step would be to seriously reconsider their location. I suspect that even a few blocks would appease many of the project’s opponents.
However, in a free country, this is a decision that Cordoba House’s developers should make. It should not be thrust upon them by the government.