Discussions about plans to build an Islamic Community Center two blocks away from Ground Zero now include the voice of former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, who had this to say on the matter:
“There should be no mosque near Ground Zero in New York so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia.”
I implore Gingrich, and those who share his belief, to remember that the United States of America and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia are two entirely different countries, governed by fundamentally different sets of laws and principles. A comparison of the two countries in this context is like comparing apples to oranges, making it largely illogical to have equal expectations of both. Stephen Prothero made a similar point on the CNN Belief Blog, as did Rabbi Brad Hirschfield on the Washington Post’s On Faith blog. Hirschfield wrote:
“Gingrich’s claim…is [an] inane unless one [and] assumes two things: A, that we should now use Saudi Arabia as our benchmark for what is appropriate as far as freedom of religious expression, and unless they are as good as we are, we need not be as good as we have traditionally been. And B, that this is a Saudi project lead by people who could change the Saudi position on religious freedom but have failed to do so.”
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is just that — a kingdom, based in Shariah Law. The national flag of Saudi Arabia includes the Shahada, the Muslim creed that states “There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is His Messenger.” Islam is the state-established religion; in fact, according to the CIA World Factbook, Saudi Arabia’s population is 100% Muslim.
In contrast, here in the United States of America, having an established national religion is against our constitution – as a result, we are the most religiously diverse country in the world. One of our founding principles is that the government cannot show preference for one religion over another or unfairly discriminate against one faith over another, or faith over no faith.
As an American citizen, and a citizen of the world, I expect a higher level of religious tolerance and acceptance from the United States than from Saudi Arabia. The United States of America is responsible for upholding the values and judgments it has enshrined in its crowing jewel—the Constitution.
Our own Interfaith Alliance President, Rev. Welton Gaddy, addressed the Ground Zero community center debate in his own On Faith post:
“For years, public discourse…has called for a great moderate Muslim voice to counter extremism. Now, when such a voice is seeking to be heard in meaningful and helpful ways, it faces severe backlash and strong opposition – indicating a continued fear and ignorance of the Muslim faith, even at its most peaceful.”
Reverend Gaddy also recently interviewed Daisy Khan on his weekly radio show State of Belief. Along with her husband, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, Kahn is one of the visionaries behind the community center. I leave you with her words on the matter:
“We always take comfort is knowing that Islam’s struggle in this country is the same as the struggles of those that came before us,’ she told me last week. ‘’It’s one of acceptance. America remains shining example of religious freedom and acceptance.”