Monday, August 16, 2010

My two cents

Randall of Musings from the Hinterland has a short post up re the so-called "Ground Zero Mosque" and its attendant controversy. Randall, to summarize, acknowledges and respects the First Amendment and property rights at stake in this issue but disagrees both with the building of the mosque and with the wisdom of President Obama's remarks on this issue last week.

I'll make two quick points here:

1) I think quite frankly that anyone's pretense to arguing that certain structures or businesses should be restricted within an arbitrary (and yet-to-be determined) distance of the site of the World Trade Center and its immediate vicinity should not be permitted, arguing that this space is hallowed ground, lost much if not all its resonance when the Port Authority decided that the WTC site was too valuable commercially to leave "vacant" (read: as a memorial to 9/11). One could argue, in fact, that the only religion that has emerged triumphant here, the first one to slap the face of the victims and survivors of that day, was Capitalism. Yes: I understand the other arguments for rebuilding there, but really: a revenue-generator as a memorial of that day?

2) I have grown weary of those people who in effect are making the argument that the Establishment Free Exercise Clause [thanks, Randall] applies only to those faiths within the Christian tradition (Judeo-Christian, if the arguer is feeling especially inclusive). These people rail against perceived and actual disrespect for their faith but do not feel compelled to respect the faith (let alone the rights) of others to worship (or not) when and where and as they please. Religious fundamentalists have for years advocated in the courts over the right to engage in organized prayer in public schools (churches apparently not offering enough space or opportunity for that activity) and cannot comprehend why on earth anyone might find that even coming close to violating the Establishment Clause; yet, let the adherents of one particular religion seek (and obtain, via unanimous approval of the relevant board) permission to build a building not even entirely devoted to worship, and all Heck breaks loose among some of those very same people--people, by the way, who would have said nothing if a Christian or Jewish or Buddhist or Hindu entity had proposed and been approved for the same structure.

It seems to me that that was the substance of President Obama's remarks: to affirm the Free Exercise Clause, even in the face of widespread opposition to this particular instance of its exercise. But the Constitution is not a popularity contest. The slap in the face here is being administered those who want to be protected by the Constitution but refuse to extend those same protections to others.

3 comments:

R. Sherman said...

Actually, I don't care about it one way or the other. My late night, poorly phrased remarks, really were about the President's involvement in an issue he didn't need to tackle, under circumstances where there's obviously a lot on his plate politics-wise. It doesn't seem to make any sense, to me.

BTW, I supported the building of a largish mosque for our Bosnian community some years ago (post 9-11) to the chagrin of a number of blogs where I commented.

Also, it's the "Free Exercise Clause" which is in play here, not the Establishment Clause. It's absolutely inviolate for all comers in my view. Nonetheless, I wonder why the location and insistence for this by the Muslim community, given the expressed purpose is to mend fences.

Cheers.

John B. said...

Hey, Randall--thanks for dropping by.

Last comment first: Sorry for confusing my constitutional clauses. But your question reminds me of the joke in Mobile about Southern Baptists: A neighborhood is "unchurched" if it doesn't have an SBC congregation there. It seems to me that even to question the motives of any church who wants to build in a given location should be subject to question, if the game to be played is to question the motives of Muslims who want to build a mosque in a given place. Moreover, Muslims are already worshiping at a 9/11 site: Muslims who work in the Pentagon can go to a room in that building specifically set aside for daily prayers, yet I've heard no outcry against this. And, it's hard to engage in the healing of a community if one does not have a presence in that community--preferably, a physical one.

I am pleased but in no way surprised to learn of your support for a mosque in your area.

No question: President Obama's comments were not politically helpful, certainly not in this election season--witness Harry Reid's speaking against the mosque today. But a White House event honoring the beginning of Ramadan seems a pretty good time to me for our President to say, as President, that American Muslims are Americans, too.

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