Tuesday, August 10, 2010

To Build or Not to Build a Mosque

The prospect of having a mosque built so closely to "ground zero," the site of the World Trade Center collapse, has many up in arms regarding the apparent Muslim 'gall' of this move. Seemingly a blatant initiative to declare victory over taking that ground, the mosque's nearest spire will no doubt symbolize an Islamic version of the raising of the flag on Mount Suribachi after the Battle of Iwo Jima. No greater equivalent of "In your face!" could be accomplished, comparable in offense to the United States building a mega-church within the former palace complex of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad. No plausible explanation can be advanced that will convince mourners of 9/11 victims to accept this new development without insult. Far from 'building bridges,' the new mosque development is building a symbol of victory and conquest.

Nevertheless, no credible objection can be advanced that will prohibit the building of the mosque either. That a significant measure of the population is aghast at the decision to allow it cannot add up to legal justification for stopping it. The religious freedom enjoyed in the United States cannot be selectively applied (though many will claim that it currently is anyway). Imagine, however, a city counsel publicly denying the building of a synagogue or church simply because enough outrage in the community could be conjured by those not sharing the faith represented by it. Vocal 'contrarians' can be found to oppose any worthy cause as well as unworthy ones. The offended rabble are abundant and ever at the ready when needed. Thus the Constitution rightly restricts the amount of real power the many can exercise against the few. To those that suggest this is a misapplication of the First Amendment, can they not imagine a brood of noisy Congregationalists 'derailing' attempts to build a new Anglican church in the late 18th century?

According to the Constitution, that the building of a new mosque in the shadow of 'ground zero' can be seen as no less than an Islamic war victory cannot be of any legal consequence. Instead, the protections afforded the Muslim under the Constitution are the same for us all - Christian, Jew, etc. How quickly people forget that the proverbial 'pendulum' swings both ways. While I may hope that Christians would have better 'taste' than to build a cathedral on the rubble of the former Bathist headquarters in Iraq, that Baghdad's city planners allowed it would certainly be evidence that they are entering the 21st century with the West.

It is the nature of American civil religion that we have various factions of fervent belief all seeking to convert one another, yet leaving that mission out of the legal process. Church historians may critique this paradigm as having launched the erosion of Christianity in the West, but acknowledge some of its benefits too. In the meantime, an 'a-religious' legal system is the 'bed' we have made, now we have to kneel and pray next to it, before we lie in it.

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