Tuesday, August 24, 2010

America, Home of the Free -- Except for Muslims?

by Doug Bandow

The Huffington Post
August 23, 2010

Religion stirs our deepest passions. That helps explain the furor over the planned construction of a mosque in lower Manhattan near Ground Zero. Why else would Americans, who normally glory in their right to practice their chosen faiths, be debating whether people can build a house of worship in the nation's most populous city?

It is a disturbing discussion. The tone is ugly; the charges are vicious. And no Christian, Jew, or other religious person can feel safe if angry mobs -- even if only virtual -- are able to stop the activities of an unpopular faith.

There is no legal barrier to building the mosque and Muslim community center, called Cordoba House, in New York City. If the First Amendment means anything, the government cannot single out a particular religion for constructing a worship facility. The Free Exercise Clause would mean little if politicians could willy-nilly close down mosques -- or churches, synagogues, temples, and other religious sites.

Any attempt to block Cordoba House also would run into the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. Passed by voice vote in the Republican Congress of 2000, the law targets state and local governments attempting to inhibit religious exercise through land use regulation. Senate sponsor Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) explained: "At the core of religious freedom is the ability for assemblies to gather and worship together."

Nevertheless, should the mosque not be built, at least at the planned site? The moral outrage generated over the proposed construction is real. But it appears to reflect the dubious claim of collective Muslim responsibility for 9/11.