In any legal or constitutional showdown over whether a mosque can be built near Ground Zero, the mosque would win, hands down.
First Amendment of the Constitution requires it. The amendment, perhaps
the most cherished of the Bill of Rights, guarantees that government
may not interfere with the practice of religion.
Not that Imam
Feisel Abdul Rauf and his Cordoba House have earned such protections.
The widespread feeling is that the imam is using our deeply rooted
belief in liberty to shove his mosque down our throats, knowing full
well that most Americans oppose building it near the 9/11 killing field.
Here is a religion whose mainstream adherents repeatedly assert that the
Koran teaches tolerance. So, then why do so many of its adherents
engage in beheadings, the slaughter of medical missionaries, the stoning
of women and the execution of homosexuals -- not to mention the biggest
mass murder in American history at Ground Zero. All in the name of
Don't bother reminding me of the brutal history of Christians and
other religions. Which currently is as bloodthirsty in the name of their
deity as this Islamic sect is now? And which insists on government
enforcement of their dictates through terror and violence, like the
The mosque's planned presence feels like an intentional
insult, a calculated smack-down, a purposeful rending of wounds too deep
to have healed. As Debra Burlingame, sister of a pilot killed in the
9/11 attacks, said, the mosque "is a deliberately provocative act that
will precipitate more bloodshed in the name of Allah."
calls go out far and wide for us to exercise tolerance and respect
toward Rauf and his mosque in this matter, yet how many forcefully call
on Rauf for equal measures of tolerance and respect for the innocent
victims of 9/11? And yet. ...
The imam has got us cold. He has the
right to build it there, and he knows it. The U.S. Constitution's on his
side; so is America's tradition of freedom and religious liberty. He
can justifiably argue that a right not exercised because of vast public
disapprobation is a right denied.
The Constitution, law and
tradition prohibit government from dictating where a denomination can
build its house of worship. It's so enshrined in the law that the
Supreme Court has decreed that government can't prohibit American
Indians from smoking hallucinogenic peyote as part of a religious rite.
Thankfully. We've already had enough of government prohibitions on
expressions of faith, from the presence of a cross on isolated, public
property, to public schools erasing references to religious holidays.
houses of worship located even on private property are not exempt from
zoning laws. And government can take property owned by religious
dominations if it serves a clear and compelling public interest and a no
"less burdensome" alternative to achieve this public good is available.
the Cordoba House has passed those tests. It doesn't violate local
zoning or landmark ordinances. And being insensitive -- as the imam
surely is -- is hardly sufficient legal grounds for blocking the
construction of a house of worship. Let's be honest: the opposition to
the mosque is fueled by discrimination against this religion. It's so
obvious that any attempt by any government to stop the mosque surely is a
loser. If Catholics, Protestants or Jews wanted to build there, we
wouldn't be having this debate.
So, conservatives, let's leave the
wailing about the imam's insensitivity to liberals, for whom it is the
highest of offenses. Let's not waste our breath hoping that a government
you believe should be limited would step in and do something about it.
Such an expansion of government powers would eventually and surely turn
against you in unforeseen ways.
Give Rauf his victory, if he must
have it. It'll be hollow because the mosque's presence will stand as a
concrete reminder of our devotion to liberty and acceptance of its
costs. Erect a plaque outside proclaiming, "This mosque brought to you
courtesy of America's dedication to freedom." The mosque will stand for
all to see as testimony to Rauf's rigid and Procrustean version of
Islam. Certainly, he and Islam will be the losers.
This column also appeared in the Chicago Tribune