The question to the Washington Post On Faith panel this week asks about the “religious freedom vs. wisdom” of building an Islamic community center near Ground Zero and questions the impact of public opinion polling.  The following is my response, cross-posted from the Washington Post On Faith forum:

As a proponent of religious freedom who early on stated my support for the construction of Cordoba House, I was proud to see President Obama’s strong endorsement of religious freedom last Friday – and was quite disappointed when, on Saturday, he seemed to walk back his comments. That disappointment deepened as I saw a statement from Senate Majority Leader Reid’s office saying he respects religious freedom but that the mosque should be built somewhere else.

It has been disheartening to see Members of Congress and other national leaders cite public opinion polling as a reason to stop the project. Anyone with a basic knowledge of the history of the First Amendment knows that religious freedom exists in part to protect the rights of the minority from the whim of the majority. In fact, it would not be a stretch to say that if the Founding Fathers had relied on polling data, the First Amendment might not exist at all. On issues of religious freedom – and let me be clear, this is one of those issues – Congress and the President should not be wavering.  In my experience, any sentence that begins “We recognize that this is a religious freedom issue, but…” is usually followed by an attempt to circumvent the guarantee of religious freedom on the basis of discomfort and bigotry. Arguing that we should overlook religious freedom in favor of taking the road less controversial is, in essence, an argument for not taking action on any significant religious freedom issue in this country; most all of them have been controversial.

Cordoba House is a project that shows the American Muslim community’s commitment to democratic values, interfaith dialogue, and civic engagement and is, in many ways, a slap in the face to the extremists who sought to destroy those values with the September 11th attacks. Please understand that Hamas’ recent statement of approval of Cordoba House is not an endorsement the initiative’s founders sought – or, I suspect, want. Imam Feisal Rauf, a voice of progressive and peaceful Islam, has long been respected as a leader in interfaith issues; he and his wife Daisy Khan have repeatedly condemned radical Islam and have taken pains to disassociate themselves from extremists. Opponents must stop intentionally mischaracterizing the motives of those behind the Cordoba Initiative, conflating them with the impure motives of extremists who defile the religion of Islam by committing acts of violence in the name of their faith.

To oppose this project because Islam is involved and Muslims are sponsors of it is a violation of the religious freedom guaranteed and protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution – period. Whether the construction of such a building is “appropriate” is not for us to decide (though I do think an institution dedicated to education, fostering mutual understanding, and facilitating reconciliation is appropriate); rather, it is for us to recognize that the founding documents of our nation permit this project to move forward as a presence whose purposes include healing. The president and Congress should remember that they have sworn to defend the Constitution. Neither now nor ever is there a time to waver from that commitment.

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  • David Olds

    Be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”
    I think he’s saying – know what you are getting into. Don’t be naive. Know the reality of what you are facing. If you are up against evil, don’t underestimate the degree of evil you could be facing.
    Perspicacious -acutely insightful and wise; observant and thoughtful, farsightedness.
    Sagacity – judiciousness: the trait of forming opinions by right distinguishing and evaluating.
    Chump – a person who is gullible and easy to take advantage of, a fool.

    Fact – Muslims take advantage of our freedoms to attack us.
    Fact – Muslims according to the Koran may lie to Infidels in order to spread Islamist ideology.
    Fact – Abdul Rauf has a dubious background and Islamist associations
    Fact – Muslims have a history of Islamic triumphalism

    There are many ways to wage jihad; not all involve violence, but all have the same goal. And all of them must be stopped if we are to retain the freedoms, including the freedom of religion, not found in most Muslim countries.— without racism or hatred but with the wisdom (sagacity) of serpents.
    We mustn’t be blind fools.

  • Ryan Bach

    David Olds: wow, that’s a mass of ignorant intolerance. Debunking time.

    “Fact – Muslims take advantage of our freedoms to attack us.”

    No, murderers take advantage of our freedoms to attack us. There are 1.5 billion Muslims in the world, and there were 19 hijackers on 9/11. Do the math. Collective punishment went out of fashion in Western Civilization a few hundred years ago, my friend.

    “Fact – Muslims according to the Koran may lie to Infidels in order to spread Islamist ideology.”

    Fact – according to literal readings of the Bible, Christians are supposed to kill unbelievers in many cases, adulterers, unruly children, etc. Anyone who takes a literal reading of a religious book and divorces it from any sense of morality or the overall message of the faith is going to produce some disgusting conclusions.

    “Fact – Abdul Rauf has a dubious background and Islamist associations”

    No, he doesn’t. Libel is illegal, you know. He has a long history of being a voice for moderation and peaceful coexistence. He has no “Islamist associations.” You’re just drinking the kool-aid. Placing the word fact before each of your ridiculous, false and offensive accusations doesn’t make it so. Find sources to back up your claims.

    “Fact – Muslims have a history of Islamic triumphalism”

    WTF? That’s one of the most bigoted and intolerant things I’ve ever read. What does “Islamic triumphalism” even mean? Historically, Muslim societies have tried to triumph? No sh!t – so has Christendom, and so has every other society in human history. Your ignorant and hateful ‘clash of civilizations’ thinking has clearly poisoned your ability to be compassionate or even rational toward Muslims.

    “There are many ways to wage jihad; not all involve violence, but all have the same goal. ”

    Um, no. Jihad in modern, moderate Islam means a personal relationship with God, not a struggle against unbelievers. Yet again, you’ve taken the views of a handful of violent extremists and assumed all Muslims agree. That would be like saying all Christians want to kill abortion doctors, whether they plant the bombs or not. It’s not true, and it’s a gross disservice to the billions of peaceful people you are accusing of wanting to harm innocents.

    “And all of them must be stopped if we are to retain the freedoms, including the freedom of religion, not found in most Muslim countries.— without racism or hatred but with the wisdom (sagacity) of serpents.
    We mustn’t be blind fools.”

    Okay, now you’re just an idiot. The only way to protect freedom of religion is to take it away from Muslims? If only they built their theocracy around a different holy book, you and the leadership of those repressive Islamist regimes would have a hell of a lot in common.

    You should be deeply ashamed for this intolerant rant. If you don’t believe in interfaith community building and understanding, why are you here?

  • Marc Kruza

    Bravo, Ryan. I’m afraid I suffer I suffer from a horrible disability… I can’t tell ignorant people to screw off. I told them what I really thought of their ridiculous “10,000 Against the Ground Zero Mosque” Facebook page. They called me a “Muslim fanatic” and “disrespectful” to the 9/11 victims. I was so shocked I caved and apologized. I can’t understand why I felt so compelled to do this. I knew I was right. I hope I won’t cave someday when it really matters.

  • Ann H. Csonka

    RYAN: Thank you! It always helps me when ignorant comments (IMHO) are clarified as I would like to!

    MARC: I got stuck on your last comment: “I hope I won’t cave someday when it really matters.” Every day matters. Now matters, and little things add up. I don’t know that page and am not going to look it up because it will make me sick. BTW, I do understand your position and reaction.

    My thoughts:
    >Good commentary, Rev. Geddy.

    > My husband and I have been absolutely shocked by the inane outcry, which proves the need for a cultural center. However, sadly, at least 90% of those who demonstrate against it will not utilize any opportunities to learn what they are railing against.

    > Media has fueled the controversy by generally tagging it as “Ground Zero Mosque”. Exceptions: Dr. Sanjay Gupta on CNN and Rachel Maddow on MSNBC immediately called it the Community Center.

    > FYI, there is a very good, though slightly meandering, special comment by Keith Olbermann at http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/38730223/ns/msnbc_tv-countdown_with_keith_olbermann/.

    > The hate and demonstrators ignoring the basic constitutional religious freedom guarantee and the plurality issue reminds me of the old POGO cartoon related to the first U.S. Earth Day: “We have met the enemy, and he is us.” ALL MUST STAND UP FOR THE CONSTITUTIONAL ISSUE – THAT IS AMERICA. We are not one of the theocracies etc. that some compare with. We are different. If we adopt selective acceptance of any one religion over another – as a nation – we are NOT AMERICA. Individuals can believe whatever they want, and are even free to yell and write venom and hate – but not to hurt.

    > Why don’t the protestors put as much into POSITIVE SUPPORT for the 9-11 Memorial center?

    ‘BOTTOM LINE” – BEST EXPRESSED BY THE FOLLOWING:

    > FROM A “9-11 MOTHER”. I saved a particularly memorable heart-wrenching post from a blog earlier this year: Adele Welty June 7th, 2010 10:43 am ET

    As a 9/11 family member who lost my son Firefighter Timothy Welty at the WTC, I strongly Support building a cultural center and mosque near Ground Zero. Whereas the attacks of 9/11 were an act of hatred and anger, this cultural center will be a symbol of inclusiveness and healing, welcoming all in the community to come to its events, regardless of differences of faith. This country was founded to foster religious freedom. Let us adhere to the vision of our founding fathers not the vitriol that caused the attacks on our nation.

    Adele Welty – Flushing, NY – Mother of Firefighter Timothy Welty, FDNY, Squad 288

  • Margaret Erickson

    I just watched Rev. Gaddy on The Rachel Maddow show and I must say that I was encouraged and elated while listening to the Reverend. We are at a crossroad in this country and it’s time that we stopped holding on to outdated, ignorant beliefs with an almost obsessive grip. It’s time to accept the premise that Change is good and that there is NOT one “right” religion while the others are wrong. Thank you to all of you who are enlightened enough to recognize that if we walk as truthful, loving, considerate, honorable people we are all one. I am ashamed that in my country there are ignorant factions that are stooping to such a level. I am reinforced by Rev. Gaddy and those like him and I just wanted to say ‘thank you.’ May God, Jesus, Allah, Bhudda, Krishna and The Goddess bless you all!

pingbacks / trackbacks
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  • […] not much of an advocate for foreign-funding transparency, has long been a no-compromise major supporter for the Ground Zero Mosque. Imam Rauf and Interfaith Alliance President C. Welton Gaddy have worked […]

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