Monday, August 16, 2010
Like Rob, I received an e-mail asking why I (like others at MOJ) had not posted anything about the "Ground Zero Mosque" controversy. I suppose part of the reason is that -- like Rob -- I think the legal and constitutional questions are not particularly hard or interesting. (It is "open and shut", explains Eugene Volokh.) Yes, it seems to me that it would not be consistent with our traditions, or with the relevant doctrines, to prevent the construction of a mosque -- because it is a mosque -- on a particular site.
That said . . .
First, I think a lot of the commentary by those who agree with me (and Rob, and Eugene, etc.) has been off-puttingly preening and condescending in tone, as if all of those who have raised concerns about the proposal are doing so because they don't know or care about religious freedom, or toleration, or the Middle East, etc. To say -- and I am not saying -- that this particular project ought not to go forward in this particular place (even if the law allows it) is not (necessarily) to deny or question the religious liberty or patriotism of American Muslims or the importance of inter-faith engagement.
Second, I agree entirely with those who have pointed out that the failure of nearly every Muslim political community to afford religious liberty to their own citizens (including Muslims!) is not relevant to the content of our own commitment to religious freedom. The religious liberty of Muslims in America is (thank God!) not contingent on Saudi Arabia respecting the religious liberty of Christians (or anyone else) there. But, let's not forget: This failure is a huge problem. I do hope that those who are (appropriately) sensitive to the importance of religious liberty here -- including the President, and Imam Rauf -- will not forget, once this controversy dies down, to focus on the serious threats to religious liberty that exist, and are in many instances worsening, around the world. (See here the work of Thomas Farr.)
UPDATE: MOJ-friend and philosopher Chris Eberle sends in these thoughts:
. . . You said that you didn't address the issue b/c the constitutional and legal issues are not particularly difficult. But that puzzles me. The discussion, as I understand it, isn't really about constitutional or legal issues. Every (serious) commentary I have run across takes for granted (as obvious) that the Cordoba Project has the legal right to build a mosque on its own properly zoned property. The furor is about the propriety of the manner in which the Cordoba Project exercises that right. The (sensible) claim is that the leaders of the Cordoba Project should voluntarily refrain from exercising their undoubted right to build as they apparently plan to build. All the furor is supposed to get them to do so!
This doesn't seem to me to be a crazy aim. After all, the expressed reason for the Cordoba Project's erecting a Mosque in that particular location, as distinct from the many alternative possibilities, is that they want to foster mutual understanding between members of the Muslim faith and other religions. But given the reaction, that argument is now defunct. Given that the main reason (as I understand it) for the mosque/community center is simply not credible, lots of folks clamor for the Cordoba Project to relent. Do you think they they should not do so? (There's also a negative side to this, I grant: the implausibility of the stated rationale for the project give rise to all kinds of conspiracy theories about 'real motivations,' sources of money, and so on.)
. . . I definitely think that the legal issues are settled. But surely not all of the moral ones ... moral ones that emanate from the penumbra of the legal ones. No?
YET ANOTHER UPDATE: Here (HT: America) is Cardinal O'Malley:
. . . [It] is a sign of the value we have for freedom in this country, and for religious freedom in particular. We certainly do not want to support groups that promote terrorism, but there are many American citizens who are Muslim, and they have a right to practice their faith. Having a mosque near the site of the attack can be a very important symbol of how much we value religious freedom in this country.
I compared the situation to a historical situation in Ireland: During the Easter Revolution the Irish were very careful to protect the rights of the Protestants in the Free State. They did not take back their cathedral or close their churches. Instead, they wanted people to see they believed in freedom of religion.