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Truth, Justice, and the American Way for the Lower Manhattan Mosque?
In the days since UUSC posted its statement of support for New York City Mayor Bloomberg and the unanimous vote of the Landmarks Preservation Commission for the Cordoba House to move forward, we've had a lot of constructive dialogue with members who feel strongly either in equal amounts of support or opposition. The debate continues on our Facebook page and throughout the blogosphere and other news and opinion outlets.
I am proud to work for an organization that sees this issue for what it is: defending the rights that make up the fabric of our nation.
One of the arguments consistently made against the Cordoba House is that a majority of people are against a mosque at this particular spot. If we've learned anything from Judge Walker's recent ruling for gay rights in striking down Prop 8 and ensuring equality for LGBT Californians, it's that inherent rights should not be subject to a popular vote. Minorities must be afforded protection of the law, in effect to say, "We will not trample your rights simply because we do not believe as you do or practice as you do." If the Bill of Rights is our touchstone, then freedom of worship and freedom to assemble must not be undermined.
Another argument given: "This will open old wounds, so why does it have to be here of all places?" But if not here, then where is it acceptable? Should the Constitution now stipulate that freedom of religion is valid only in certain geographical places and available only to certain faiths? History is littered with examples of marginalized groups being ghettoized, restricted to their own corner of the world by those who hold power, which only leads to an "us" and "them" mentality — but never a "we." Until people's worldview of "there" becomes and includes "here too," we'll never reach the lofty goal we all repeated as schoolchildren: "one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." Surely there's a space for prayer and peace two blocks away from the former World Trade Center site.
What happens when we collectively buy into the divisiveness? Its ugliness spreads: mosques are protested, even violently, in Tennessee, California, Kentucky, Wisconsin, Illinois, and elsewhere. Stephen Salisbury, writing on Alternet, skillfully gets to the heart of the matter: "The mosque controversy is not really about a mosque at all; it's about the presence of Muslims in America, and the free-floating anxiety and fear that now dominate the nation's psyche." So we come to find that the xenophobic politicians who would exploit people's fears are the only terrorists to be found in this equation. And again, William Saletan echoes in Slate: "This is the real argument behind the campaign against the New York community center: It's Muslim, it's big, and it's too close to where a bunch of Muslims killed a bunch of us." Or in Newt Gingrich's words, there should be no mosque in lower Manhattan "so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia." Again, it's us versus them, here and there.
Which brings us to Mayor Bloomberg's eloquent leadership, when he put on notice all those who would wrap themselves in the patriotic cloak of supporting 9/11 victims to justify their prejudice:
"On September 11, 2001, thousands of first responders heroically rushed to the scene and saved tens of thousands of lives. More than 400 of those first responders did not make it out alive. In rushing into those burning buildings, not one of them asked 'What God do you pray to?' 'What beliefs do you hold?' . . . We do not honor their lives by denying the very Constitutional rights they died protecting. We honor their lives by defending those rights — and the freedoms that the terrorists attacked."
And last, so that we can all take a breath and pause from all the contention — and since I am a huge comics geek — I'll add that even Superman, the symbol for "truth, justice, and the American way," shares this worldview: "It's only when over there becomes here that we can stop this once and for all."
Please join with UUSC, stand up for human rights, and let's build bridges so that "here" can come to meet, and include, "there."