Friday, July 23, 2010

Religious Freedom and the Mosque

We have, in this country, a document called the Bill of Rights. It says,
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
It does not say that religious freedom shall only be infringed when we don't like it. It does not establish any exception for Muslims, or for mosques in lower Manhattan. It says the free exercise of religion shall not be prohibited.

Given that American conservatives these days spend a lot of time waving around their copies of the constitution, on what basis do they support prohibiting Muslims from freely exercising their religious freedom?

Here is Newt Gingrich:
There should be no mosque near Ground Zero in New York so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia. The time for double standards that allow Islamists to behave aggressively toward us while they demand our weakness and submission is over.
Ah, so we should just shred the constitution and adopt Saudi Arabia's approach to religious freedom. I thought conservatives hated it when we copied other countries' laws. (Perhaps, Mr. Gingrich, we should instead adopt the Saudi approach to adultery?)

Now we certainly do sometimes limit where large churches can be placed, based on zoning ordinances, environmental laws and the like. So one could imagine blocking a mosque from the actual WTC site. But this mosque, which is actually a "Muslim Cultural Center," is two blocks away. In lower Manhattan, two blocks in a long way; measured by the number of residences and businesses in between, this is more like a mile in suburban terms. This is a complete non-issue seized on by conservative demagogues who want to boil their followers' blood.

And yet there is, I think, a deeper issue. Gingrich seems to think, as Kissinger used to think, that we should fight evil by becoming more like it. I believe that we should fight evil by becoming as little like it as possible, and by instead re-affirming our own traditions. Especially the ones embodied in the Bill of Rights.

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