October 25, 2014

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Denounce right-wing attacks on mosque

Aug. 19, 2010

By Steve Mount

“Thou shalt allow religious freedom.”

This is as close to a secular commandment that the United States has. Along with the freedoms of speech, of the press, of assembly and of petition, freedom of religion is an important First Amendment right.

We have often let ourselves be blinded to our freedoms (adding “under God” to our Pledge of Allegiance, for example, as a counter to communist godlessness, and in doing so violating the spirit of religious freedom). Some of the figureheads of the Republican Party and conservative movement, however, have latched on to a new issue to garner support while not only turning a blind eye to the principle, but actively disrespecting it.

In case you have not heard, there is a brouhaha brewing about a new building being proposed for 51 Park Place in lower Manhattan. The building, aptly named Park51 and financed by Islamic community groups, will contain a gym, an auditorium, a restaurant, a library, childcare facilities, a Sept. 11 memorial and, controversially, a mosque.

Over the past month, the shrill right has begun to keen about this issue. Such Republican luminaries as Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich have publicly denounced the project. One person, Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association, is advocating not just a halt to the building of the Park51 mosque, but a halt to the construction of all mosques across the United States.

Driven by the talking heads, some less thoughtful right wing sheep have begun to flock to the city to hold up placards and protest signs. I’m almost too embarrassed for them to reprint what they say, but the only way to illustrate the lunacy is to do so:

- “Don’t glorify murders of 3000 – no 9/11 Victory Mosque”

- “Islam builds mosques at the sites of their conquests and victories”

- “A mosque at Ground Zero spits on the graves of 9/11 victims”

All of this lunacy over nothing.

The truth is that the proposed mosque is not at Ground Zero. Imagine, for a moment, that Burlington’s Town Center mall is Ground Zero. The location of the mosque in New York City is equivalent to where Burlington’s Fletcher Free Library is. No one would say that the library is “in” the Burlington Town Center mall. It is a mistake at best, and a deception at worst, to say that the proposed site is “at” Ground Zero.

All of this lunacy is contrary to a cherished American principle.

I think it is safe to say that if Park51 was going to hold a chapel, church or synagogue, then there would be not so much as a single breath wasted on it. The fact that it is a mosque should not be relevant.

An argument is that Islam is a religion of violence, and allowing the mosque at Park51 is akin to allowing a terrorist training ground in the middle of Lower Manhattan. This guilt by association only works because many people buy into the notion that Islam is a religion of violence. What Islam has is an unfortunate number of fanatics who twist the religion to their own agenda, and that’s no reason to stop construction at Park51, let alone, of course, a nationwide moratorium.

Based on that sort of logic, the actions of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh would have stopped construction of Catholic churches; Scott Roeder’s killing of abortion doctor George Tiller and Atlanta Olympics bomber Eric Rudolph should have closed down other Christian churches. Religious terrorism is not unique to Islam. We cannot paint an entire religion with the brush given to us by these zealots.

Fortunately, at the end of the day, cooler heads will prevail. Though some called it a political risk, President Obama came out firmly in support of the Park51 project, as has New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Americans, regardless of creed or political leaning, should lend their support to the groups responsible for the Park51 project. If you cannot, perhaps you should rethink your feelings about religious freedom in general.

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As a reminder, the primary elections are taking place next Tuesday. There are choices to be made on both the Democratic and Republican ballots. Primaries are much less well attended than the general election, but I hope that if you were not sure about voting on Tuesday, a few words of encouragement will sway you.

Voting is another of our cherished rights, and we should not waste it. Please, vote on Tuesday.

Steve Mount has been a Williston resident since 1996. He is a software engineer at GE Healthcare and is devoted to his family, his country and his Constitution. You can reach Steve at [email protected] or read his blog at http://saltyrain.com/ls.

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