Editorial: Crescent Burning

JEWISH LIGHT EDITORIAL

Polls are not good tools for protecting the Constitution.

A recent Rasmussen Poll reports that 54 percent of respondents oppose the construction of an expanded Islamic community center near Ground Zero in lower Manhattan, while 20 percent favor its construction.

As if this is the way we should determine who gets to build religious facilities? A poll?

Be careful what you wish for, America; the next place of worship to be banned could be yours.

ADVERTISEMENT
MERS Goodwill ad

It’s not just about Ground Zero, of course. Even though the proposed center isn’t at Ground Zero, one can at least understand why emotions are running high on the issue so close to the epicenter of terrorism on American soil.

But the histrionics aren’t limited to New York. There are loud, hyperbolic voices all across the country seeking to prohibit mosques from being developed and operated.

It is tragic (but alas, not surprising) that members of the majority are so willing to trample on minority rights. In doing so, they eschew the fundamental principles of our country.

It is patently obvious to any high schooler who paid attention in U.S. History class that we don’t make determinations about religious freedom by majority vote. As even Ridgemont High’s Jeff Spicoli might say, “Duh, dude, that’s why there’s a Bill of Rights including the First Amendment, right?”

Right. We don’t get to pick and choose which religions get protection. That the Founding Fathers understood this is a major factor in how and why Jews have found a relatively safe harbor in the United States. In fact, the escape from religious persecution is a substantial reason why there is even a United States at all.

Even with these safeguards, it’s been a tough road for us. Can you imagine if they weren’t in place? Likely not, because many of us probably wouldn’t be here, either.

So next time you listen to politicians argue inanely that Muslims don’t “need” a new community facility because there are already 100 mosques in New York, or that we should allow this center to be developed only when Saudi Arabia allows synagogues and churches, ask yourself some questions:

• Do we want to be more like Saudi Arabia?

• Is there now a quota on how many buildings each religion gets?

• If someone proposed a prohibition on a church in the same place, how would the opponents feel?

Are we to believe that because the World Trade Center bombers were Muslim, we should apply a standard of disdain, distrust and discrimination to every Muslim and Muslim facility in America?

No one’s saying not to be vigilant. We do not need to protect or defend any actions in furtherance of the forceful overthrow of the United States, nor any conduct intended to result in a criminal act. Of course if there’s significant evidence of a proposed religious facility of any kind being used for an illegal purpose, the government has the right to act according to due process, statutory law and the Constitution.

“Guilty” of being Muslim is not one of those illegal purposes.

Some have said that the American Muslim community has not done enough to publicly distance itself from the bad acts of a troubling few. Whether a valid opinion or not, it’s predicated on deeply flawed logic. For one thing, the American Muslim community is not a monolithic institution.

For another, do we hold other religions in America to the same standard? Do we preclude the construction of Catholic churches (by what is a fairly monolithic institution) because of abortion clinic bombings or abuse by priests? Do we say no to Protestant denominations by virtue of those within their ranks who are racist crazies? Should we punish all Jews for the malevolent conduct of radicals like Meir Kahane and his adherents, or the fraudulent practices of Bernie Madoff?

Perhaps we should start looking at the religion of criminals in the United States. We sadly lost 3,000 people during 9/11, but we lose five times that many to homicide in this country each year. Should we examine the backgrounds of those guilty of such acts and ascribe responsibility to the religious institutions in which they were reared? We think not.

Or extend these fallacies beyond American borders. What if detractors of the Israeli approach toward Palestinians said that until there’s peace, we shouldn’t enable Jews in America to construct any new places of worship.Does that sound like a stretch? Maybe to those who haven’t lived through mass persecution, but as they say, those who don’t recall history are doomed to relive it.

Those fighting mosque construction around the country – those who want to sacrifice the rights of so many who go to work every day, who contribute to the economy and their communities – need to focus on this question: What makes us different from Saudi Arabia?

If the only answer you can muster is that you think it’s ok to build churches and synagogues, but not mosques, then alas, our vision of and aspirations for the United Sates are markedly different than yours.