Right on cue, our Panel of Betters at the “On Faith” section of the Washington Post have stepped up to tell us what the Cordoba House controversy is Really All About: opponents are bigots who wouldn’t know freedom of religion if it came up and bit them on the Bible. First up, Welton Gaddy of the Interfaith Alliance:
It has been disheartening to see Members of Congress and other national leaders cite public opinion polling as a reason to stop the project. Anyone with a basic knowledge of the history of the First Amendment knows that religious freedom exists in part to protect the rights of the minority from the whim of the majority….In my experience, any sentence that begins “We recognize that this is a religious freedom issue, but…” is usually followed by an attempt to circumvent the guarantee of religious freedom on the basis of discomfort and bigotry.
No one, of course, is proposing that a popular vote be taken on the project. Rather, the polling has been done for two purposes: 1) to see how well the public understands the issue (answer: pretty well, but it would be great if more people understood the difference between a right (something may be done) and a prudential decision (whether something should be done); and two, what they believe should be done in the case on the ground. Most people understand that the Cordoba Initiative has the right to build; most people would prefer they they didn’t, for reasons that would be clear to proponents such as Gaddy if he’s take his fingers out of his ears long enough to actually listen to the people with whom he disagrees.
To oppose this project because Islam is involved and Muslims are sponsors of it is a violation of the religious freedom guaranteed and protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution – period. Whether the construction of such a building is “appropriate” is not for us to decide (though I do think an institution dedicated to education, fostering mutual understanding, and facilitating reconciliation is appropriate); rather, it is for us to recognize that the founding documents of our nation permit this project to move forward as a presence whose purposes include healing.
So presumably Gaddy would be in favor of discarding all zoning ordinances that prevents churches, synagogues, mosques and temples from being built pretty much where anyone wants to build, because such ordinances are clearly violations of the First Amendment. They serve no purpose, at least with regard to the building of religious facilities, other than channeling bigotry. That such ordinances are sometimes used for such purposes I have no doubt (though I can’t recall ever having heard the Interfaith Alliance step up and defend a church that was denied a building permit when such a motive seemed to be at work), but claiming that’s the only reason for opposition to Cordoba House, and that such opposition is per se a violation of the First Amendment, is the claim of someone too obtuse to understand either.
Then there’s Robert Parham of the Baptist Center for Ethics:
If the political opportunists, religious bigots and xenophobes prevail in blocking the mosque near Ground Zero, then religious liberty will get badly bruised. America will have backed away from a long cherished right for which our forefathers and foremothers fought and suffered. America will have sacrificed one of its defining cultural, moral and constitutional characteristics. America will ensure future threats to religious liberty where the religious majority holds prejudicial hostility toward the religious minority.
So building the Cordoba House where the proponents want it built is necessary for America to remain America. If it is built one mile away, it will mean that America will have “sacrificed one of its defining cultural, moral and constitutional characteristics.” If it is built one mile away, it will mean that Americans will have died in vain. If it is built one mile away, it means that religious liberty has been trampled. If it is built one mile away:
Saw that coming, didn’t you? You could see this coming, too, from Quaker minister Max Carter:
[T]he forces behind the opposition to the community center – forces largely politicized in nature, whether from the Tea Party faction, Anti-Defamation League spokespersons, Republicans smelling blood in the water, Democrats smelling defeat in November, or the merely bigoted and intolerant – represent a threat to more than a little domestic tranquility. If they succeed in obscuring the truth of our nation’s commitment to religious freedom, fogging the discussion’s deeper implications with talk of “lack of wisdom,” then we lose in the long run on a far more important matter: applying real Wisdom in the decisions we make regarding religious tolerance and, more importantly, understanding and respect.
I love that “forces behind the opposition”–as if the American people can’t think for themselves, couldn’t form an opinion about this issue until politicians, or the ADL, or the Tea Party (how’s that for a straw man–has any leader of the Tea Party movement said anything about this at all?) weighed in. I can pretty well guarantee that the 61% of New Yorkers–overwhelmingly liberal or moderate in the political persuasions, living in perhaps the most multi-cultural city on earth–didn’t need to hear from Newt Gingrich or Harry Reid before deciding that this was not a good idea. As for why asking through an expression of public opinion for the sponsors of Cordoba House to find another place to put it constitutes a “threat” to the application of wisdom on public issues, I can’t begin to guess.
Speaking of straw men, retired Lambuth University religion professor Gene Davenport constructs a doozy:
That you “can” believe in religious freedom, but not believe the mosque is appropriate, is shown, of course, by the fact that some folk do. For persons of another faith to tell Muslim citizens it is not wise or appropriate to build the Center because of widespread opposition, however, is similar to the patronization white liberals expressed towards Martin Luther King, Jr., when they said, “We agree with your goals. We just think it isn’t the right time.” Today, the descendents of those liberals say, “We agree with your right. We just think it isn’t the right place.”
So building the Cordoba House at the spot chosen–no other is possible, or even conceivable–is on a par with the rights of African-Americans to use public facilities and live where they want without discrimination, or to be free to take part in the political process, run for office and vote. And apparently it is no longer valid for members of one group, in this case religion, to offer an opinion on the wisdom of an action or idea offered by those of another. Davenport then compounds this category error with another:
I weary of hearing “Ground Zero” and some indeterminable area around it described as “hallowed” or “holy” ground. Only God can designate holiness, and I know of no indication that God has done so for Ground Zero. Death as a Power can – in and of itself – hallow absolutely nothing. To assume otherwise is to engage in the idolatry of Death. Expressions of opposition heard today are born of sorrow, anger, frustration, and an irrational stereotyping of Islam as ultimately defined by the terrorists.
From a Christian standpoint, of course, it is true that only God can sanctify a given place, and so we refer to Jerusalem, but not Grand Rapids or Nashville, as a “holy city,” for instance. But whereas Davenport says that no one can tell Muslims what they think about building a mosque in a particular place, he also seems to be claiming that, in our multi-cultural world, no one can proclaim a place “sacred” or “hallowed” without revelation from God. So much for Lincoln declaring Gettysburg “hallowed ground.” So much for Pearl Harbor, or Auschwitz, or Hiroshima, or Verdun, or any of the places people have set aside for the purpose of remembering momentous or tragic events that took place there.
Katharine Henderson of Auburn Seminary compares opponents of Cordoba House to Klansmen:
My own grandfather was part of this story too. A Quaker, he led the founding of the first and only school for African-Americans in Pender County North Carolina in the 1920s. This good deed precipitated nightly visits from the Ku Klux Klan–his good Presbyterian and Methodist neighbors–robed, on horseback with torches burning to harass him. If a public opinion poll had been taken assessing support for the school, I’m sure it would have had few supporters–”not in our neighborhood” they would have said. And yet, most would agree today that his was a redemptive act–the right thing to do to help turn the tide of bigotry, discrimination and hatred.
The proposed Park 51 Community Center has tapped into similar and sinister forces of resistance, pent up since 9/11, festering just below the surface, a wound not healed. With it comes a much needed national conversation about who we are as a people. Are we going to be a nation that embodies the constitutionally protected values of religious freedom and pluralism or will freedom be allowed only when and how a majority tolerates it?
I think you get the point. As is so often the case, it is not possible for people of good will to have different perspectives on a matter of public debate. Those who are not on the side of the angels–you know who you are–must be bigoted, ignorant, racist, irrational foes of freedom and justice and motherhood and apple pie. So do us all a favor, and Listen to Your Betters!
UPDATE: Having given so much space to Christian advocates for Cordoba House, I thought it only right to give a bit of space to one of the opponents:
I cannot imagine that Muslims want a mosque on this particular site, because it will be turned into an arena for promoters of hatred, and a symbol of those who committed the crime. At the same time, there are no practicing Muslims in the district who need a place of worship, because it is indeed a commercial district. Is there a side that is committed to this mosque? The fact is that in the news reports there are names linked to this project that costs 100 million dollars!
The sides enthusiastic for building the mosque might be building companies, architect houses, or politicized groups that want suitable investments?! I do not know whether the building applicant wants a mosque whose aim is reconciliation, or he is an investor who wants quick profits. This is because the idea of the mosque specifically next to the destruction is not at all a clever deed. The last thing Muslims want today is to build just a religious center out of defiance to the others, or a symbolic mosque that people visit as a museum next to a cemetery….
Some Muslims will consider that building a mosque on this site immortalizes and commemorates what was done by the terrorists who committed their crime in the name of Islam. I do not think that the majority of Muslims want to build a symbol or a worship place that tomorrow might become a place about which the terrorists and their Muslim followers boast, and which will become a shrine for Islam haters whose aim is to turn the public opinion against Islam. This is what has started to happen now; they claim that there is a mosque being built over the corpses of 3,000 killed US citizens, who were buried alive by people chanting God is great, which is the same call that will be heard from the mosque.