Today is the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks and the news is filled with the "controversy" of plans to build a mosque and Islamic center in Manhattan close to Ground Zero.
There should be no controversy here. The land in question is privately owned. The first amendment protects the right of citizens of all faiths to worship freely. The Muslims planning to build this mosque are exercising one of the most fundamental human rights, a right that our nation cherishes and our Constitution protects. No one should be trying to interfere with their plans and no level of government has the authority to.
It is understandable that some, particularly those that lost loved ones on that black day nine years ago, are upset. It is easy to understand how a mosque close to the site where thousands lost their lives at the hands of Muslims that claimed to carry out Allah's will open old wounds. However, it is critically important that we overlook these concerns and uphold our cherished principle of religious freedom, lest we sink to the level of intolerance of those that perpetrated this attack and sacrifice some of the liberty we ask our brave soldiers to defend. On March 5, 1770, British troops opened fire on unarmed Americans in Boston. Whether they were provoked or not (and they probably were) is beside the point. Americans were outraged. Yet, these British soldiers were successfully defended by no less an American Patriot than John Adams. From the dawn of our nation we have shown that we cherish our principles of liberty more than our emotional desires. In that spirit, British soldiers who fired on Americans were given the trial and defense to which they were entitled. It should be no different with the building of this mosque, recognizing that the Muslims who will worship there had nothing to do with the attacks nearby nine years ago. Al Qaida is no more representative of Islam than the I.R.A. is of Catholicism....
President Obama is right to defend the Constitutionally protected right of free worship of the Muslims building this mosque. He is right to say that the 1st amendment means, "if you can build a church there, if you can build a synagogue there, if you can build a Hindu temple there, then you can build a mosque..." Mr. Obama should be applauded for defending this Constitutional principle despite the unpopularity of doing so. He has alluded to the notion perhaps this site is not the best choice for a mosque nor where he would choose to build a mosque because of the passions it inflames. However, he is right to largely avoid statements of whether or not he thinks a mosque should be built there or not. It is frankly irrelevant what the President or anyone else thinks should be done.
Finally, there is no moral equivalence between the building of this mosque and Terry Jones' plan to publicly burn copies of the Koran (which may or may not happen today?). Granted that the copies of the Koran are privately owned and the 1st amendment protects Mr. Jones freedom of speech and expression in burning them, however this act is far more deliberately offensive than the building of a house of worship to the same God of Abraham worshiped by Christians and Jews. Mr. Jones plan may be protected, but it is simply spiteful and shallow. In a nation that protects religious freedom, it matters not that Mr. Jones is fervently convinced that the Koran is "full of lies." As Mr. Jefferson wrote in the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom , "...to restrain the propagation of principles on the supposition of their ill tendency is a grave and dangerous fallacy, which at once destroys all religious liberty.... Truth is great and will triumph if left to herself."
Christians secure in their faith have nothing to fear from the Koran and Americans have nothing to fear from a mosque in Manhattan. We have everything to fear from becoming a nation that would seek to block the building of a house of worship of any particular faith.