Triumph for Religious Tolerance

I was glad to hear that the New York City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission has voted to allow the construction to move forward for an Islamic Center near ground zero.  The plan is moving ahead despite vehement protests from the usual suspects (Sarah Palin, calling for a “refudiation” of the mosque, Newt Gingrich, et al.), as well as some less likely suspects (the Anti-Defamation League, as Pop mentioned in yesterday’s Morning Constitutional, objected to the location of the Islamic Center, saying that its construction “in the shadow of the World Trade Center will cause some victims more pain – unnecessarily – and that is not right.”).

Some proponents have pointed out the details that the objectors got wrong– for instance, that the site is not AT ground zero, but two blocks from it.  Matt Sledge at Huffington Post points out that it’s not exactly a mosque that’s being built either: the building being planned is “a cultural center with a prayer room.”

Beyond the details, though, are the principles at stake.  Of course, for the right-wingers fighting the plan, there’s political gain to be had in stirring up religious prejudice and bigotry under the guise of patriotism.  But NY Mayor Bloomberg, in explaining his support, captured why this is such an important issue, and why it touches on deep-seated American values:

Whatever you may think of the proposed mosque and community center, lost in the heat of the debate has been a basic question – should government attempt to deny private citizens the right to build a house of worship on private property based on their particular religion? That may happen in other countries, but we should never allow it to happen here. This nation was founded on the principle that the government must never choose between religions, or favor one over another.

The World Trade Center Site will forever hold a special place in our City, in our hearts. But we would be untrue to the best part of ourselves – and who we are as New Yorkers and Americans – if we said ‘no’ to a mosque in Lower Manhattan.

Bloomberg went on to say that “this is an important test of the separation of church and state as we may see in our lifetime – as important a test – and it is critically important that we get it right.”  Kudos to the commissioners for the unanimous vote that gets it right.

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