a mosque in Manhattan

This isn’t a political blog.

I’m interested in politics, and read articles representing different viewpoints at realclearpolitics every day. I just don’t write about them. I won’t be endorsing political candidates any time soon.

But I do write about the so-called culture wars. I’ve written about abortion, for example. With the exception of politics generally, I write about faith and culture, where ever it intersects. And right now it is intersecting on a piece of real estate a couple of blocks away from ground zero, the site of the former Twins Towers.

A Muslim group is building a mosque, or a community center as they prefer to call it, and politicians of every stripe have weighed in on the controversy. Palin and Gingrich have joined the chorus of those who say it is insensitive and unacceptable.

Yesterday, however, at a dinner celebrating Ramadan at the White House, President Obama said that he supported the mosque:

As a citizen, and as president, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country. That includes the right to build a place of and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances. This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable.

I agree with him.

As Thomas Jefferson, who the president quoted, once said,” “all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion.”

Now personally I’m not too keen on the president celebrating Ramadan in the first place. And I wish the Cordoba Initiative would build their mosque somewhere else. The truth is I don’t agree with the president very often.

But we don’t get to rest in the freedom of religion provided us by the First Amendment if we don’t extend that grace to others. And the same thing goes for freedom of speech.

One of the key groups that lobbied for the First Amendment in the first place was Baptist pastors in Virginia who had been jailed as non-conformist. I think they would agree with me.

So would Pastor Martin Niemöller, the German pastor who pointed out that when the Nazis came for the Jews he didn’t speak out because he wasn’t a Jew, but by the time they came for him there was no one to speak for him either.

So I’m speaking for the Muslims here, even though I disagree with them. And for the Baptists too.

They both have the right to practice their faith as freely as possible.

Even when they’re not right.

Here is an alternate view, by Abraham H. Foxman, National Director of the Anti-Defamation League. He says the right to do something doesn’t not make it the right thing to do.

7 thoughts on “a mosque in Manhattan”

  1. I noticed your comment on Salon. I realize that your position is an unpopular one, especially among Christian conservatives. It takes courage to support the mosque (well, more of a community center) in lower Manhattan. Thank you.

    I was proud of my mayor (not the first time but I’m not a big supporter) when he went out of his way to support the mosque. And, despite my differences with Obama, I’m pleased he’s also spoken out about the mosque. Both of their speeches are brief but to the point and they capture values that I feel are at the core of the beginning of our country and, I hope, still honored by most of my fellow citizens.

    If you have not read the Flushing Remonstrance of 1657 that Mayor Bloomberg based his Governor’s Island speech on, I highly recommend it.It does a beautiful job of articulating tolerance as a basic Christian value. The Remonstrance was influenced by the prevailing Dutch Christian theology of the time which was generally very tolerant toward other religions and, of course, NY was Dutch at the time. However, over the next 100 years or so, these Dutch values became embedded in NY religious life and indeed influenced various NY Christian congregations throughout the abolitionist period and beyond. Even though the congregations of the Dutch reformed churches were fairly small by the 1800s, those churches were at the forefront of the movements for the abolition of slavery, freedom of religion, and civic life in general.

    “The law of love, peace and liberty in the states extending to Jews, Turks and Egyptians, as they are considered sons of Adam, which is the glory of the outward state of Holland, soe love, peace and liberty, extending to all in Christ Jesus, condemns hatred, war and bondage. And because our Saviour sayeth it is impossible but that offences will come, but woe unto him by whom they cometh, our desire is not to offend one of his little ones, in whatsoever form, name or title hee appears in, whether Presbyterian, Independent, Baptist or Quaker, but shall be glad to see anything of God in any of them, desiring to doe unto all men as we desire all men should doe unto us, which is the true law both of Church and State; for our Saviour sayeth this is the law and the prophets.”


    I was raised in a fundamentalist Southern Baptist church. When the local Catholic church burned, our minister offered our old, and largely unused sanctuary to the Catholic congregation. Madness ensued. We were almost kicked out of the Southern Baptist convention for allowing icon-worshiping Catholics to meet on our grounds. The church was divided, people left in anger. It was the first time I had been exposed to such intolerance and it was very puzzling to me how we, as Christians, were doing wrong by offering comfort to our fellow man, regardless of their beliefs. Since then, I’ve come to believe that one of our (often disregarded) fundamental duties as Christians is to be tolerant of other’s beliefs.

    As a current Manhattanite, I am proud that my mayor and my president have stood up for the mosque. I am also proud that the ministers of the two churches I attend–one a fairly conservative Episcopal congregation, and one a liberal Dutch reform church–have stood up for religious freedom. Every day of my life in NYC, I interact with muslims of all kinds, secular, fundamentalist, and all stripes in between. My children have muslim teachers, I do business and, indeed, I live in an a coop with muslims. I am occasionally a guest at muslim religious celebrations, in private homes and in community settings. I have never, in my 25 years of living in NYC, been prosthelytized by any muslim nor have I ever felt uncomfortable in any way with my neighbor’s beliefs. I have attended Seders and Christmas eve services with muslims. I have never noticed any disrespect toward my beliefs or those of any other religion coming from my muslim neighbors. We live in peaceful respect toward each other, even if we disagree about many things.

    Sorry for the long rant but I feel really crummy about the way my fellow citizens are treating my muslim neighbors and, well, I think more of us, especially more Christians, should be standing up for the mosque and trying to point out that not only do we, as Americans, have a long and vital history of religious tolerance but also that tolerance is a fundamental Christian belief.

  2. A footnote to the above rant:
    …not too keen on the president celebrating Ramadan…

    If you have never attended an Iftar, I highly recommend it. Now is the time. Just call up a muslim friend and say “Hey, are you guys having an Iftar? Can I come?” As a rule, it’s a time when outsiders are invited to share in muslim traditions. In most parts of the muslim world, Iftar is a time for sharing, charity, and celebrating with outsiders. Kinda like the way Thanksgiving is a time for _everyone_ to have a nice meal and celebrate our shared good fortune and faith. It’s generally a casual meal, often with special treats for the kids, and a time for sharing, discussing, honoring, and celebrating the things we _all_ hold dear. In some ways, the closest comparison in my life to an Iftar is the Sunday afternoon fried chicken picnics that the Southern Baptist church of my youth hosted. I might not have brought my Catholic and Unitarian friends to the Sunday service but I certainly invited them to share food and conversation at the picnics after the service. It was a time when it would not been impolite at all for my guests to say “Hey, why do you Southern Baptists hate dancing? Or, what’s your problem with Catholics and Muslims?” At an Iftar, it’s perfectly reasonably to ask polite questions of your hosts, over lemon sherbet and strong sweet coffee.

    I have attended many NYC Iftar celebrations, some with close friends, some with strangers. I have been invited, on the spur of the moment, to have a glass of fresh apricot juice and a date, traditional ways to break the Ramadan fast, with taxi drivers. It’s a lovely tradition and it’s a mostly secular event. In fact, in NY, it’s not uncommon for non-muslims to host Iftars. My local Jewish community center hosted one last year and Iftars are on the calendars of many secular groups throughout the city.

    If Obama had not hosted or visited an Iftar, he would have been breaking a long tradition of American presidents, and American institutions, honoring Iftar in one way or another, dating back to Jefferson and extending through Bush.

  3. No, thank you.

    I almost forgot that I ranted on here. It was a spur of the moment rant, mostly brought on by a handful of sad Salon comments. But, after a lovely little Iftar meal in Brooklyn tonight of apricot juice, spinach and cheese pies, olives, and toasted pita with sesame seeds and I noticed my browser was still open on this page…and I read the Flushing Remonstrance again, and all is better in the world.

  4. I agree with you.

    I have said more than once, who am I to take away the rights of others? Would I want them taking mine?

    I don’t think its right, but its their land.

    The poster above has be wanting to find a Muslim person and asking about attending an lftar.

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