Thursday, August 26, 2010

Freedom to Worship

From the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States:

Congress shall make no law respecting the 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.

From the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

From Senator Joseph Lieberman, on the establishment of the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, which states that the US may promote religious freedom as part of its public poilicy:

It because of a belief that no government has the right to tell the people how to worship and certainly not the right to discriminate against them or persecute them for the way they chose to express their faith in God.

I love my country. I honor the principles on which it was founded and recognize that they are noble, lofty and subject to interpretation. And I know that fear drives people to do and say things that they might not, if they were thinking from their kinder hearts. But right now? All of the rhetoric rising up from those who object to an Islamic center being built in Lower Manhattan shocks me. I want to believe we are better than that.

I think the quotes above make the argument quite effectively, but I'd like to point out a few things.
  1. What greater gesture of reconciliation and peace could there be in these times of increasing fear and incendiary speech than a community center where kids can play, mothers can take a break and yes, people can worship? You can be sure, considering the neighborhood, that any incendiary speech will be noticed and commented upon. Besides, if it were a YMCA, YMHA, Catholic center or any of many other religious centers, this furor would not be. This is a chance to affirm that we are a nation of one built out of many. That we believe in the freedoms we go abroad to enforce.
  2. Because this is a Muslim community center, some people with loud voices are assuming all Muslims are radical Muslims and out to cause trouble. This is the same as me assuming all Germans are Nazis, a black person assuming all white people are in the KKK and a white person assuming all black people are thugs. Come on people, grow up.
  3. The hatred we are displaying in protesting this community center only adds to the hatred that can be redirected back to us. It's making us look really bad.
  4. For those who lost loved ones in the September 11, 2001 attacks, I'm sorry for your loss. It seems as though you have been forced to take on the burden of the country's pain and rage, adding to your own grief. Right now, you have a chance to be a voice for peace that might help prevent someone else from experiencing a similar loss.
  5. And lastly? The community center is blocks from Ground Zero. I know it's close. I know it's still Lower Manhattan. But it's not in the middle of the Pit.
It's up to each of us to stand up for common decency and humanity. We all love our children, care about our homes and our futures. Let us be kind and forgiving to each other, support our neighbors dreams and by example, show the world that we are not the demons we sometimes fear we might be.

(c)2010 Laura S. Packer
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1 comment:

  1. I would point out that the site of the proposed mosque is indeed Ground Zero. The landing gear from one of the planes flown into the World Trade Center crashed through the roof of the building. It doesn't get much more "ground zero" than that.

    And bear in mind that no one is questioning the organizers of the mosque's legal right to build on the site. No one has ever contested it. Numerous polls have confirmed the fact that people don't object to building a mosque, they simply object to building it *there*.

    However, if, as the organizers claim, the mosque is intended to form a bridge between Muslims and non-Muslims, even if they did not originally recognize the controversy which accompanied the choice of site, it must now be apparent that the site itself will act as an impediment to that mission. Would it not make sense, given that sentiment, to choose another site a few blocks north? And yet, the organizers have refused to even discuss the option.

    On the other hand, if, as the opponents of the mosque claim, it is being built as a symbol of Muslim victory, such recalcitrance would be exactly the behavior that would be expected. If that is not, in fact, the purpose of choosing that particular site, then would not the organizers' goals be better suited by choosing another site? If their motives are what they say they are, they're playing into the hands of their critics, and undermining their own message.


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