Is a mosque at Ground Zero religious freedom too far? Thanks to Dallas Morning News for presenting different points of view. Our own Rabbis and Pastors have spoken respectfully.
Indeed, it is another opportunity to the world to see what we are made of; the world will see the spirit of our freedom and who we are, we are open to others, our freedom does not scare us, we are secure with ourselves and secure with the God given diversity; and we live with confidence of who we are.
We set the tone for the world, so other nations can emulate us and not the other way around.
It is a Muslim cultural center that is planned near the site of ground zero, it is a great initiative to build bridges and work on creating a better world. The Neocons are determined to create chaos out of it and I hope they can see the goodness it brings in creating a cohesive society. It will be open to the public and interfaith dialogues will be carried on.
I was on Fox TV with Hannity and nearly brought up the same issues. It should be looked up as a bridge building event. First of all it is not a Mosque, it is a community center with a Mosque in it and secondly, every community should have a community center in it.
You are welcome to write your comments at the end of the Newspaper story, or end of this blog. the first few comments are interesting.
TEXAS FAITH: Is a mosque at Ground Zero religious freedom too far? Wayne Slater/Reporter Bio E-mail News tips
The debate over a mosque near Ground Zero has rekindled questions about religious expression in a nation that treasures religious freedom. Plans for the $100 million mosque just blocks from the site of the 9/11 attack have angered the families of survivors. It's become an issue in the New York governor's race where Democrat Andrew Cuomo answered his Republican opponent's objection to the mosque this way: "What is the country about if not religious freedom?"
There are conflicts, of course - say, when religious expression violates the First Amendment (school-mandated prayer) or endangers lives (outlawing Appalachian snake handling). And there's the annual dustup over singing Silent Night in a public building, which never seems fully resolved. But the debate over the mosque is different - and raises a more fundamental question.
What are the limits to religious expression in America? Are there any? Should there be?
Our Texas Faith panelists weigh in with a thoughtful discussion on the issue:
KATIE SHERROD, Independent writer/producer
First of all, curtailing mandated prayer in public schools is not a restriction on religious expression. To the contrary, it is a defense of religious expression because it allows ALL religions to express themselves as they see fit without the state forcing non-Christians to listen to Christian prayers. Prayer in public schools is not forbidden. Any student may pray privately in any way they choose. What is forbidden is state-sanctioned prayer.
Because let's not kid ourselves -- state-mandated prayers in the USA are always Christian prayers. Imagine the uproar if Christian kids were forced to listen to an imam pray to Allah over a school loudspeaker. That is also the case with the singing of Silent Night. It's a Christian song, as are most Christmas songs of course, given that the holiday celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ. Why should Jewish and Muslim school children have to sing Christian songs? Again, imagine the uproar if the school decided everyone was required to attend a Seder in the cafeteria at Passover.
The building of the mosque near Ground Zero is another case entirely. Muslims have purchased land to build a building in which Muslims will pray and have services. The people who frequent that mosque will not be forcing anyone else to worship there or to listen to their prayers. This is exactly what the First Amendment is meant to protect. People walk by all sorts of things on their way to and from Ground Zero, including profane and offensive graffiti. Having to walk by a beautiful mosque should be no more offensive than having to walk by the beautiful St. Paul's Chapel.
Timothy McVeigh, a Christian, blew up the Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing many children as well as adults. The Episcopal Cathedral is right across the street and was heavily damaged in the blast. Yet not one person objected to its being rebuilt near that Memorial because a Christian had committed that terrorist act. Wrapping up xenophobia in outrage over 9/11 does more to dishonor the memory of those who died on that day than does the construction of mosque in a country founded on religious freedom.
GEOFFREY DENNIS, Rabbi, Congregation Kol Ami in Flower Mound and faculty member, University of North Texas Jewish Studies Program
Andrew Cuomo said it all. The establishment clause protects the freedom of all religious groups, especially the ones that the majority might view with suspicion. There are a few well-known limits to religious expression in our society, the chief one being that government space and functionaries (a very small part of our lives) are and must be religion neutral. Whatever a teacher, policeman, or agency staff person may believe (and they do believe anything and everything), they may not use their position or the government facilities and resources under their auspices to promote their beliefs, or the beliefs of any religious group, regardless of how much political power or popular support such belief may enjoy.
But that's the government sphere, which is really a unrelated issue from the case we are considering - the freedom to practice religion in the private sphere, like on a piece of private property in lower Manhattan. In such cases, the freedom of religion is virtually inviolate.
LARRY BETHUNE, Senior Pastor at the University Baptist Church, Austin
The boundaries between religion and state have been hammered out in a host of legal rulings and since the adoption of the First Amendment to the Constitution in 1791. The original amendment read "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...." In the 1925 Gitlow vs. New York decision, the Supreme Court interpreted the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to apply First Amendment protections to state and local governments as well as the federal government.
The establishment clause creates what Thomas Jefferson called "the wall of separation between church [religion] and state." The court has consistently interpreted it to mean "the state cannot favor any one religion over another religion or irreligion" in cases where religious and political leaders have conspired to legislate their religious beliefs for all to follow. The continuing disrespect of American religious liberty by religious extremists and the exploitation of religious issues by politicians to gain power means maintaining the separation of religion and state requires constant vigilance.
On the other hand, religious liberty cannot be used as an excuse to break the law without consequence. While a person may disobey the law for religious reasons, he or she must expect legal consequences to follow. Civil disobedience inspired by religious fervor (as in the case of the civil rights movement) has brought unjust laws into disrepute so that they were repealed. But courageous people had to be willing to pay the price for their disobedience until the laws were changed. On the other hand, acts of violence, extortion, and financial dishonesty perpetrated in the name of religion have been rightly prosecuted by the state without changing public opinion about the laws or leading to successful first amendment cases.
Given the continuing antipathy of some members of international Islam towards the United States, the establishment of a mosque near ground zero is understandably painful to families of victims and anxiety-producing to the community. One could hope the congregation would be sensitive to this experience and choose a different location. On the other hand, Islam did not sponsor the terrorist acts of 9/11. The Islamic extremists who did do not represent all of Islam any more than abortion clinic bombers represent all Christians. The state has a justified interest in closely monitoring the activities of a mosque with a concern about ties to international terrorism in the same way it has an interest in monitoring the financial activities of churches and synagogues regarding tax reporting or childcare safety. Congregations should operate openly and without secrecy in order to belie even the appearance of illegal activity. But when all is said and done, American religious liberty extends to Islam as much as any other religion, including Christianity, and a curtailment of their rights because of the extreme actions of some amounts to an abridgement of the religious liberty of us all.
GEORGE A. MASON, Senior Pastor Wilshire Baptist Church, Dallas
What we should long for in this country is a day when religious expression can flourish without fear. And that includes being able to welcome Muslims as good neighbors in our communities without suspecting that they wish us harm because so believe their religion is inherently violent and fosters hatred against Westerners in general, and Christians and Jews in particular.
The proposed Cordoba House project near the Ground Zero site could be a place of enduring witness to a spirit of reconciliation, tolerance and education. The location inflames the issue. It feels to some like dancing on the graves of those whose lives were lost at the hands of terrorists who used Islam to justify their unspeakable deeds. But the location also makes it the best place to redress the horror. It has the potential to be a place of permanent penance and an olive branch of peace.
Limits to the First Amendment are still best handled by applying the so-called Lemon test. The three-part test asks the government to prove that a statute -- in this case that would prohibit the free exercise of the Muslim community --has a secular purpose, that its primary effect is not to inhibit nor promote religious expression, and finally that it does not result in excessive entanglement of government and religion. In this case, you have to argue convincingly that prohibiting the mosque is in the reasonable interest of safety of Americans, that its primary effect does not inhibit the expression of the Muslim community, and that doing so would not be excessively intrusive. Lawyers would parse the words more closely, but I believe that is the essence of it. And on these bases, it's hard for me to imagine that government action to prevent the building of this mosque would be legally defensible.
WILLIAM LAWRENCE, Dean and Professor of American Church History, Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University
Every freedom that is guaranteed as a right under the Constitution has some limits. Free speech does not include the right to shout "Fire!" in a crowded theater. The right to bear arms, despite recent decisions by the Supreme Court, does not include the freedom of an individual citizen to amass an arsenal of nuclear weapons. And the freedom of religious expression does not provide an absolute blanket to cover everything that claims freedom under the "establishment" clause just because it declares itself to be a religion.
For example, if some Americans who trace their ancestry back several hundred years to pre-colonial days in Mexico choose to renew the religious cult of the Aztecs, they could certainly claim a constitutionally protected freedom for doing so. But they would not be free to reinstitute the Aztec practice of offering human sacrifice. One cannot engage in criminal behavior under the umbrella of religious freedom.
To use another example that is less violent though no less criminal, an individual claiming to be a preacher of God's word can buy air time on television and invite viewers to send contributions in support of the preacher's "ministry." But, as we learned in the case of Jim Bakker some years ago, that freedom cannot be used as permission to engage in fraud.
More subtle than these issues are the ones involving religious freedom and public (e.g., state-owned) property. Under the protection of the Constitution, any Christian group is free to sing "Silent Night" on Christmas Eve. But no Christian group is entitled to claim as a special privilege--let alone a right--to sing sectarian songs as an expression of state policy or on state property. No Jewish group is entitled to claim as a special privilege--let alone a right--to have Rosh Hashanah services in the county court house.
None of these appears to be the principle at stake in regard to the possible construction of a mosque in lower Manhattan. Adherents of Islam clearly and unquestionably are entitled to the protections of religious freedom under the Constitution. Any action to preclude or pre-empt plans to build the mosque would be an effort to "prohibit the free exercise" of religion by Muslims. Even if we accept the judgment that some interpretations of Islamic belief were among the motivating factors that led the perpetrators to commit violence on September 11, 2001, we cannot abridge the Constitutional freedom that is guaranteed to Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Taoists, and others. For the same reason, just because Timothy McVeigh clung to a twisted version of faith and patriotism when he chose to bomb the Murrah Building, we will not ban churches or patriotic organizations from erecting buildings in Oklahoma City.
If Americans still believe that the Constitution truly matters, we should celebrate a desire to build a mosque in New York City. Otherwise, we will have not only abandoned our Constitution, we will have adopted the ideology of those in Iran who would not want a church or synagogue to be built in Tehran.
JOE CLIFFORD, Pastor and head of staff, First Presbyterian Church, Dallas
There should be limits to religious expression in America. The Yearning for Zion episode from 2008 serves as a classic example of the need for these limits, and the complexities of enforcing them. Building permits for adherents of a major world religion should not define these limits. While I can certainly understand why some of the families of the 2,976 victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks would not want a mosque erected in the vicinity of where their loved ones were murdered, I think it is a mistake to define policy on the basis of their pain.
To ban any Muslim presence from the neighborhood because of the actions of 19 terrorists is to fall into the same flawed ideology of the terrorist who label all Americans as evil. Truth be told, at least 23 Muslims were included among the victims of the 9/11 terrorists. Equating Islam to the terrorist acts of 19 people perpetuates the ignorance Americans have of this world religion. According to a 2009 Gallup poll, 63% of Americans admit having little or no knowledge of Islam, yet 53% hold an unfavorable opinion of the religion, and 41% admit prejudice against Muslims. The report goes on to say, "Those who report they do not know a Muslim are twice as likely to express 'a great deal' of prejudice against Islam."
Maybe the presence of a mosque would provide people an opportunity to meet true Muslims who adhere to the religion whose name has at its root the word "peace." (Salaam) By issuing a building permit to Americans who want to build a mosque, we bear witness to the freedoms that define our nation and prove the absolutist ideologies of terrorists to be a lie.
DARRELL BOCK, Research Professor of New Testament Studies, Dallas Theological Seminary
The first point is that issue has a fallacy embedded in it that is important. It is that all Muslims are violent as these 9/11 terrorists are. That is not the case. It would be like equating all Christians with those who kill abortion doctors. There is a violent strain in segments of Islam, but that should not be attached to all Muslims. However, ultimately the question is about freedom of religious expression in our country. Now in our pluralistic context one cannot have it both ways. Yes, for some and no for others. All citizens have these benefits as well as visitors we welcome. The only place we curtail this expression is where the state is seen to endorse its expression, especially a particular expression. Islam is a recognized faith so the rights that obtain to Muslims are part of what attains to Christians, Jews, and atheists (and the atheist's right not to worship at all). This is built into the American structure.
CYNTHIA RIGBY, W.C. Brown Professor of Theology, Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary
In the spirit of full disclosure: I am originally from New York. In September of 2001, my father and both of my brothers were living and/or working close to the World Trade Towers. When the attacks occurred, one of my brothers got on the roof of his office building with a video camera. He took too-clear footage of people jumping out of windows; on the audio you can hear the horrific moment when he and his friends realized that what was happening was not an accident, but an act of terrorism. At home in Austin, I could not get a phone line through (to check on my family) for several hours. Everyone was OK, but my dad (who had yet to arrive at work) could not go to his office for several weeks.
I support religious freedom, and do not believe we can ban a major world religion from establishing a mosque in a major US city. I think there is a possibility that the presence of the mosque could promote healing. As anyone with any sense is pointing out, the terrorists were Muslim, but their behavior is not consistent with the teachings of Islam. To ban Muslims from putting up a mosque because of the actions of the terrorists would be like banning Christians from establishing a church close to a Planned Parenthood clinic that had been bombed by a person who said he did it in the name of Christ.
That said, I ask Muslim people of faith to consider NOT building the mosque so close to Ground Zero - at least not for a time. For Muslims themselves to refrain from building even though they certainly have the right to do so would, I believe, almost certainly promote healing. It would demonstrate a sensitivity to the sufferings and fears of those most affected by 9/11. It could very well create a space for conversation that would advance mutual understanding.
Growing up on Long Island, I had many friends who were Jewish. As a Christian believer, I wore a little golden cross my father gave me when I was in the fourth grade. But I remember when I realized, close to the time when I left for college, that this cross caused my Jewish friends pain. What was a symbol of life and hope for me reminded them of the history of Christians oppressing, and even working to annihilate, the Jews. I took off my cross with some sadness, realizing that it was inadvertently communicating to many around me something that was directly contrary to what I believe Christianity is really all about. Ironically, the better witness to my faith in Christ was not wearing the cross, but taking it off.
Symbols function. They are neither inherently life-giving, nor inherently life-denying. They mean different things to different people, and in different times. When do we take off the beloved necklace? When do we decide to build a worship center in a different location, so as not to disturb still-healing wounds? To me, what we should be discussing is not who has the right to do what where, but how we as spiritual leaders can best bring new life, rather than offense and further misunderstanding, to a broken world.
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