- Politics and Social Issues
Why the "Ground Zero Mosque" WILL be Built
A Mosque on Ground Zero?
Recently there has been quite an outcry from the public over a proposed community center and house of worship called Park51, more commonly referred to as the "Ground Zero Mosque." Some history may give some perspective to the issue.
10 Year Rewind
The year is 2000. The date is September 22, less than one year before the 9/11 attacks. President Clinton signed into law the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000. The law was sponsored by Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and had the full backing of both the House of Representatives and the Senate. In fact, there was no formal vote on the bill as it passed with unanimous consent and no objections in both houses of Congress.
Besides the full support of both Republicans and Democrats in both houses, this law had the support of the Christian Legal Society, the Family Research Council, and the American Center for Law and Justice. Most everyone agreed with the sentiment of bill sponsor Orrin Hatch when he stated, "At the core of religious freedom is the ability for assemblies to gather and worship together."
Provisions of RLUIPA
From the text of the law, it is quite clear what the intentions and scope of the law are. The law states that "No government shall impose or implement a land use regulation in a manner that imposes a substantial burden on the religious exercise of a person, including a religious assembly or institution" unless it can prove that there is a "compelling government interest" and that the regulation is the least restrictive means of meeting that interest. In layman's terms, that means that religious institutions can build pretty much wherever they want. This is to protect churches and other houses of worship from hidden religious discrimination based on "neutral" grounds of "preserving neighborhood character" or "traffic control."
The law goes on to say that "No government shall impose or implement a land use regulation that discriminates against any assembly or institution on the basis of religion or religious denomination." Again, in layman's terms, you can't impose the regulation because the house of worship is associated with a particular religion.
Fast Forward to the Present
Currently, there is a political and social firestorm regarding Park51, formerly called the Cordoba Institute, and more commonly referred to as the "Ground Zero Mosque". Many politicians (most of them Republicans) have condemned the placement of the muslim community center and mosque, located 2 city blocks from the former site of the World Trade Center buildings. Below is a sampling of them:
"Nazis don't have the right to put up a sign next to the Holocaust museum in Washington. We would never accept the Japanese putting up a site next to Pearl Harbor." -Newt Gingrich, Speaker of the House, 1995-1999 (R-GA)
"Ground Zero Mosque supporters: doesn't it stab you in the heart, as it does ours throughout the heartland? Peaceful Muslims, pls (sic) refudiate (sic)." -Sarah Palin, Former Gov. of Alaska, via Twitter
"The First Amendment protects freedom of religion. Senator Reid respects that but thinks that the mosque should be built some place else." -Spokesperson for Harry Ried, Senate Majority Leader, 2007-present (D-NV)
In addition the American Center for Law and Justice has circulated an online petition do stop the building from being erected (found here) despite their pro-church (and presumably mosque) interpretation and support of the RLUIPA (found here). Another initial supporter also reversed course on the issue:
"Nine years after terrorists forever altered the New York City skyline, an Islamic leader is threatening to do it again--this time, by building a mosque three blocks from where the twin towers collapsed. To the families of 9-11, this 13-story project is the ultimate insult." -Tony Perkins, President, Family Research Council
Like it or not, the organizers of Park51 certainly have the right to build their community center and mosque wherever they are able to acquire the land to do so. The fact that some early supporters of the very law they are now fighting have reversed their positions is indicative of post-9/11 politics. However, this is what is called an unintended consequence. The fact is that there is very little that the government can legally do to stop this building from being built.
Nor should they. In my opinion, the rights of people to practice their religion should not be impeded. to quote Steve Chapman, member of the Chicago Tribune Editorial Board, "The law was an effort by Republicans (and many Democrats) to protect the rights of believers-- especially despised minorities. The law recognized the importance of assuring the same freedom for them as for everyone else. That objective made sense 10 years ago, and it still does."
As always, civil discourse in the comments would be appreciated.