It's a strange sight when two groups of people with polar opposite points of view both show up at rallies or protests waiving the US flag and invoking fundamental constitutional rights. It's strange, but it's really what this country is all about.
It all started around August 2, 2010, when a New York City agency decided a 150-year-old building wasn't an historical landmark. The building could be torn down and the property developed for other purposes. It's the type of decision that's made in towns and cities across the US everyday.
However, this particular piece of property is about two blocks away from ground zero, the site of the 9/11 terrorist attack. And the proposed development is the Cordoba Mosque, a Muslim place of worship.
Reactions came immediately, and as of late August, they're no signs of things settling down:
- When the decision to allow the development was announced, city residents who were present protested immediately. A few hours after the decision, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg praised the decision
- By August 20, construction workers in and around New York City, as well as suppliers of goods and services from across the US, took the Hard Hat Pledge, vowing not to work on or participate in building the mosque
- On August 23, supporters and opponents of the mosque both held demonstrations at the site, both sides armed with US flags and arguing over freedom of religion. No violence was reported, but the "discussions" were heated
- Also on August 23, a New York City cab driver was stabbed after a passenger asked if he was Muslim
As the project continues as planned, it's very possible that peaceful protests may turn violent, and, even more unfortunate, more violence may be ahead.
"Can" or "Should?"
One reaction not mentioned yet really puts the whole issue in perspective. When asked what he thought about the project, President Obama said Muslims have the right to build it. And he's right, of course.
Even those who oppose the mosque agree that the First Amendment gives Muslims that right. They, just like Catholics, Jews, Presbyterians or any other religious group, have the same right to practice their religion when and where they please. Subject, of course, to following other laws - such as zoning rules.
For many who are opposed to the mosque, the real question is should the mosque be built near Ground Zero? They argue that many of the 9/11 attackers were Muslim or Islamic, and a mosque so close to "hallowed ground" is unconscionable. They don't oppose the mosque per se, just the location.
The imam leading the mosque, Feisal Abdul Rauf, promises the mosque will promote moderate Islam, rather than the extreme version followed by the 9/11 attackers.
Where Do You Stand?
Do you have an opinion? Let it be heard. But please, do it peacefully and with respect. Those in favor of the mosque are right when they say this nation was founded on religious tolerance. And both sides are enjoying their constitutional right to speak their opinions.
We can - and should - discuss this issue, openly and enthusiastically. Passion shouldn't turn to violence, though.
Questions for Your Attorney
- What's a hate crime?
- Can my union penalize me if I refuse to work at a certain site?
- Can a city change a zoning law to stop a specific development project?