Saturday, August 14, 2010

Do We Need A Mosque To Test The First Amendment?

      Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . .
United States Constitution – Amendment I

      Is religious freedom passé in the United States? No, but it is facing a crucial test. First, a little history lesson.
      Religious freedom had a rocky start in the early colonies. The Pilgrims arrived in 1620, and settled the town of Plymouth, Massachusetts. Denying the Scriptures was punishable by a public whipping. Failing to attend church, traveling or laboring on Sunday, or harboring a Quaker were punishable by fines.
      During the 1630s the Puritans established the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and set up a form of government based on the Old Testament. Included were laws against worshipping a God other than the God of the Old Testament, or cursing God. Both infractions were punishable by death. A Puritan woman, Anne Hutchinson, was banished from the colony merely for reevaluating and reinterpreting the preacher’s sermon.
      Maryland was founded by Catholics, and religious tolerance for all Christians who believed in the trinity was guaranteed. Denying the trinity or the divinity of Jesus Christ, e.g. Judaism or Unitarianism, was punishable by death, although no one was ever executed. When Protestants took control, Catholicism was outlawed.
      In Virginia the Church of England was the official state church, and non-attendance was punishable by a fine. While other Protestants denominations were tolerated, they were not welcomed.
      Religious freedom as we know it arrived in all states with the War for Independence, and was codified in Amendment I of the Constitution.
      The September 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center was carried out by radical followers of Islam; as a result many U.S. citizens who are followers of that faith have faced de facto discrimination. But most Americans realize that just as very conservative Christians do not speak for all of Christianity, so very conservative Muslims do not speak for all of Islam.
      Because of the enormity of the event which occurred on September 11th the spot where the attacks took place has become hallowed ground. No one, at least no American, who watched the planes crash into the buildings can feel anything but sadness and sorrow when viewing the enormous scar where the buildings stood.
      Now imam Feisal Abdul Rauf wants to build a mosque two blocks from the site of the tragedy. Rauf’s stated goal behind building the Islamic center in lower Manhattan is to “recapture the spirit of mutual respect between Judaism, Christianity and Islam that existed in Cordoba, Spain, from 700 - 1200 AD.”
      The imam has a long history of preaching tolerance and religious diversity. He has been imam of Masjid al-Farah, a New York City mosque since 1983. He has written three books on Islam and its place in contemporary Western society, including What's Right with Islam is What's Right with America. Abdul Rauf founded two non-profit organizations whose stated missions are to enhance the discourse on Islam in society. He has condemned the 9/11 attacks as un-Islamic and called on the U.S. government to reduce the threat of terrorism by altering its Middle Eastern foreign policy. Presently the U.S. State Department is sponsoring Abdul Rauf on a visit to Qatar, Bahrain and the UAR, where he will discuss Muslim life in America, and promote religious tolerance.
      Understandably many relatives of persons killed in the Sept. 11 attacks, as well as many others, are upset about the idea of a mosque being built so close to the site. Personally, I think that regardless of any good works the imam has in mind, he shows an extreme lack of sensitivity to initiate such a project at that site.
      That said, I also believe that if he wants to go forward with this project, he has an inalienable right to do so. His right is spelled out in the Constitution, and in 220 years of upholding that right.
      To deny Abdul Rauf the right to build his mosque would be contrary to the rule of law and the Constitution. The more extreme or distasteful the confrontation, the more strongly we need to defend our principles. Either we do so, or we lose the long struggle for religious freedom, a rare commodity in today’s world.
      If the imam is serious about his goal to “recapture the spirit of mutual respect between Judaism, Christianity and Islam that existed in Cordoba, Spain, from 700 - 1200 AD,” he will select a less controversial site for his mosque.
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      It is obvious that constructs change over time. In the very early days of the human race, if caveman Alley Oop wanted to warn his friend Foozy that Dinny the dinosaur was about to attack, all he could do was yell or make some other noise to call Foozy’s attention to the impending disaster. It took a long, long time to develop a sophisticated form of communication such as language.
      Constructs – The Spirit Runs Through It.

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