Stirring Words for Religious Freedom

As the right’s anti-religious freedom campaign against American Muslims gathers team, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg delivered a stirring speech yesterday about a proposed Muslim community center near the site of the 9/11 terrorist attack. Mayor Bloomberg’s powerful words echo an enduring American principle: our Constitution protects the religious freedom of all people and their right to worship as they choose without government interference.

Bloomberg’s speech came yesterday amid continued attacks on the religious freedom of Muslim Americans. Excerpts from the speech:

We may not always agree with every one of our neighbors. That’s life and it’s part of living in such a diverse and dense city. But we also recognize that part of being a New Yorker is living with your neighbors in mutual respect and tolerance. It was exactly that spirit of openness and acceptance that was attacked on 9/11.

On that day, 3,000 people were killed because some murderous fanatics didn’t want us to enjoy the freedom to profess our own faiths, to speak our own minds, to follow our own dreams and to live our own lives.

Of all our precious freedoms, the most important may be the freedom to worship as we wish. . . .

Whatever you may think of the proposed mosque and community center, lost in the heat of the debate has been a basic question – should government attempt to deny private citizens the right to build a house of worship on private property based on their particular religion? That may happen in other countries, but we should never allow it to happen here. This nation was founded on the principle that the government must never choose between religions, or favor one over another.

The World Trade Center Site will forever hold a special place in our City, in our hearts. But we would be untrue to the best part of ourselves – and who we are as New Yorkers and Americans – if we said ‘no’ to a mosque in Lower Manhattan.

Let us not forget that Muslims were among those murdered on 9/11 and that our Muslim neighbors grieved with us as New Yorkers and as Americans. We would betray our values – and play into our enemies’ hands – if we were to treat Muslims differently than anyone else. In fact, to cave to popular sentiment would be to hand a victory to the terrorists – and we should not stand for that.

For that reason, I believe that this is an important test of the separation of church and state as we may see in our lifetime – as important a test – and it is critically important that we get it right.

You can read the full text of Mayor Bloomberg’s speech here.

15 thoughts on “Stirring Words for Religious Freedom

  1. Well, I would have to ask what the Muslim motivation is for building the mosque and center at this particular site rather than at some site that is less obviously provocative by virtue of its location. Someone would have to prove to me that it was not selected on purpose to rub salt into the 9/11 wounds.

    While I agree with your First Amendment sentiment about religious freedom in principle, I stand with Oliver Wendell Holmes in his U.S. Supreme Court decision with regard to free speech and the case of Schenk vs. United States. Freedom of speech, and I suspect freedom of religion, are not absolute in this country. I refer you to the following:

    The last section of the article states:

    The decisions had two effects on free speech in America. First, it established that there were in fact limits to free speech; the right was not absolute. Secondly, the decision set the standard for judging seditious speech. Ultimately, speech is unprotected if “…the material was published with the intent or tendency to precipitate illegal activity and that it created a clear and present danger that such activity would result.”

    From this same perspective, I think we need to look very seriously at the issue of this mosque/center and ask some hard questions. Given what has happened at other mosques in the United States, what is the probability that such a mosque would become a hotbed of radical Islamic theology that would by its very nature result in a conspiracy that creates a clear and present danger to this country and its people. Because of its location, could it be used as a strategic base to launch another “in your eye again” attack on the WTC site in the future. The terrorists needed vans filled with explosives and passenger airliners to pull of past attempts on the WTC. It is hard to obtain those things and get them to their targets. However, if you have a constitutionally inviolable staging base in a mosque right next to your target, enormous logistical odds against your dastardly plan are completely overcome and your chances of success are greatly advanced.

    We need to look at this realistically rather than JUST from a First Amendment standpoint alone.

  2. One of the wonderful things about the United States is that there is a wall of separation between our government and religions. That being so, I support the building the Mosque. I’m Jewish, but I support the concept of a house of worship regardless of which religion is presented.

  3. I agree with Beverly Kurtin, and I’m Jewish too.

    The issue with the new Muslim Community Center allegedly being constructed on the site of the WTC is the fact that it is NOT going to be on the site of the WTC. It is going to be 2 blocks away from the site of that national tragedy.

    Thus, for those opposed to the building of this Muslim CC, I would ask: how far away from the WTC would be suitable for you? Four blocks? Four miles? Out of NYC or NY State? Or nowhere at all? Just askin.’

  4. Oh, and I too give a standing ovation to Mayor Bloomberg’s speech. Truly inspirational.

  5. So Charles –

    The porn shops that are only a block away – should they be moved? Or don’t they debase the sanctity of the ground?

  6. What strikes me about this is that nobody’s opinion on this should even matter, and the “Can they do this?” question is moot. It’s clearly within their First Amendment rights. Discussing this is as ridiculous as discussing, say, whether Muslim citizens should have the right to vote.

    In other words, some folks are discussing this in terms of “Should we allow this to happen?” Well, it’s not up to us. Muslim citizens have the same rights as anyone else.

  7. Ben, what you say is right and true. However, as long as people perceive this as a topic for discussion, they are going to discuss it.

    When a certain Jewish congregation in Dallas wanted to buy new land for a new larger synagogue, the neighborhood was canvassed as to how they would feel about such a new building constructed in the area. The congregation was already buying the land (or had already bought it) fair and square. But for some reason (maybe for a social impact statement of some sort), some kind of survey was conducted.

    Now, in the neighborhood’s defense, the conclusion was not that they objected to the presence of a minority religion. They had no problem with that. Their concern was – and this is the funny part – they were concerned about the introduction of barnyard-type animal odors. Remember, Dallas is the buckle of the Bible Belt, and these were probably very conservative religious Christians who were being asked about this. Being familiar with the “Old Testament,” they were aware of the Jewish tradition of animal sacrifice. Someone had just forgotten to inform them that we Jews have not sacrificed an animal since 70 CE.

    I digress, to be sure. I just felt like telling you all a funny story. In the end, the synagogue was built, and I trust all is well with them and their neighbors. Likewise, in the end I trust (or hope!) the same will be true of this Muslim Community Center.

  8. Thanks, Cytocop. Good story.

    I guess I should make one minor clarification: Discussing it is normal, but discussing it as if it’s up to us to decide where the mosque can go is presumptuous. It’s as if people are actually thinking they have the ability to take away their fellow citizens’ First Amendment rights. Does anyone else think that’s an accurate assessment, or am I just off-target on this one?

  9. Ben, the Mosque has a right to go wherever the buyers have legally bought the land. My question about where anyone would prefer it go was meant rhetorically. I was not asking because I think I have the right to decide nor that I believe anyone else has the right to decide.

    So yes, I agree your assessment is accurate.

  10. Cytocop, I’m still chuckling over your comment ’bout barnyard odors. I was speaking to a church group about what Jews believe and why we do not proselytize. One woman stood up and said that she resented my pretending to be a Jew when I wasn’t one. I shook my head and looked at her as though she wasn’t a part of this planet. “What makes you think that I’m not Jewish?” She said, “I don’t see your horns.”

    That was in 2005. When I could stop laughing I asked her what she meant. “Everybody knows that Jews have horns because they’re the offspring of Satan. You don’t have horns, therefore you’re not a Jew.” With ignorance like that, how can we ever hope to have an intelligent discussion?

    As for the Mosque, no American can decide whether or not a religion can or cannot be “permitted” to build what they need regardless of where it is located. However, when some of the offshoots of legitimate organizations such as the Mormons break the law, the government may interfere. I have some negative feelings when it comes to Muslims but that does not give me the right to tell them where they can build a Mosque. My feelings are based on ignorance, I readily admit that. But radical Muslims want to “wipe Israel off the map,” and that makes me suspicious of their intentions. Again, my feelings are based on ignorance; I’m not proud of that, but the least I can do is admit my prejudice and learn about them as time goes on.

    Nevertheless, Mayor Bloomberg, himself a Jew, made me proud to be an American. Just because I would not be permitted to pray in an Arab country, does not mean that as an American I cannot take my personal feelings into consideration when saying that I like the idea that those people can learn what the West really stands for. I am an American and damned proud of it and what we stand for.

    So I say “Welcome to the United States where you can have what you deny Americans: Religions Freedom. Hopefully, as time goes by, I will make the time to understand Islam.

    Shalom y’all…

  11. Beverly, amazingly I’ve heard that rumor about us before, that we Jews have horns. I just never met anyone who actually still believes it! (Or else I never met anyone who openly admitted they were that stupid!) It just goes to show you how much antisemitism and ignorance are still alive and well – and apparently celebrated! – despite what the deniers claim.

    In fact, there is a grain of truth to the rumor (as is true of most rumors). No, don’t be shocked. The notion that Jews have horns dates back to a mistranslation of the Hebrew. (Big surprise, eh?) It originates in the passage describing Moses’ face shining with glory. Somehow the phrase “shining in glory” got mixed up with the word for “horns.” I looked for a reference, and here is the best I could find. It comes from Wikipedia (not always the most reliable source but I think it’s right about this one):

    “Michelangelo’s statue of Moses in the Church of San Pietro in Vincoli, Rome, is one of the most familiar masterpieces in the world. However, according to archaeology experts, the horns the sculptor included on Moses’ head were the result of a mistranslation of the Hebrew Bible into the Latin Vulgate Bible with which he was familiar. The Hebrew word taken from Exodus means either a “horn” or an “irradiation.” Experts at the Archaeological Institute of America show that the term was used when Moses “returned to his people after seeing as much of the Glory of the Lord as human eye could stand,” and his face “reflected radiance.”[124] In early Jewish art, moreover, Moses is often “shown with rays coming out of his head.”[125]

    Another author explains, “When Saint Jerome translated the Old Testament into Latin, he thought no one but Christ should glow with rays of light — so he advanced the secondary translation.[126][127] However, writer J. Stephen Lang points out that Jerome’s version actually described Moses as “giving off hornlike rays,” and he “rather clumsily translated it to mean ‘having horns.'”

    The fact that your ignoramus antisemite connects having horns to being Satanic isn’t hard to figure out. Since so many pagan gods had horns (or were actually bulls as in Mithraism), Christians, believing only THEY had the right concept of God, dismissed any God other than THEIR God as a pagan god. Since Jews killed the Christian God Jesus (or so they say), Jews are Satanical OF COURSE! So OF COURSE the Jewish God has horns. Since the Jewish God has horns and Satan has horns, it can only mean that the Jewish God is SATAN! Thus, it only follows that Satan’s followers would likewise have horns.

    Basically, that sums up the theory.

    And when it comes to all these Christian mistranslations of Torah, I can’t help but wonder if these mistranslations are truly “accidental” or if there were in fact intentional.

    I just checked and I don’t have horns either so I guess I’m not a Jew either. I haven’t seen any horns on anyone at temple either but maybe they’ve all had them removed. Let’s see, the Latin word for horn is ‘cornu,’ so I take it the medical terminology for the surgical removal of horns might be “cornectomy.” And if it’s the Greek that is used, that would be a “kerectomy.”

    I’m not so sure you wouldn’t be permitted to pray in an Arab country. Anyone can pray anytime anywhere. You just wouldn’t be able to pray aloud in public. And DEFINITELY not with a siddur!!

    Shalom to you too! :>)