Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Religious freedom and Ground Zero

Here is my response to the latest Texas Faith question from the Dallas Morning News Religion Blog. Read it all at:

TEXAS FAITH: Is a mosque at Ground Zero religious freedom too far?

Tue, Jul 13, 2010
Wayne Slater/Reporter

The debate over a mosque near Ground Zero has rekindled questions about religious expression in a nation that treasures religious freedom. Plans for the $100 million mosque just blocks from the site of the 9/11 attack have angered the families of survivors. It's become an issue in the New York governor's race where Democrat Andrew Cuomo answered his Republican opponent's objection to the mosque this way: "What is the country about if not religious freedom?"

There are conflicts, of course - say, when religious expression violates the First Amendment (school-mandated prayer) or endangers lives (outlawing Appalachian snake handling). And there's the annual dustup over singing Silent Night in a public building, which never seems fully resolved. But the debate over the mosque is different - and raises a more fundamental question.

What are the limits to religious expression in America? Are there any? Should there be?

Our Texas Faith panelists weigh in with a thoughtful discussion on the issue:

KATIE SHERROD, Independent writer/producer
First of all, curtailing mandated prayer in public schools is not a restriction on religious expression. To the contrary, it is a defense of religious expression because it allows ALL religions to express themselves as they see fit without the state forcing non-Christians to listen to Christian prayers. Prayer in public schools is not forbidden. Any student may pray privately in any way they choose. What is forbidden is state-sanctioned prayer.

Because let's not kid ourselves -- state-mandated prayers in the USA are always Christian prayers. Imagine the uproar if Christian kids were forced to listen to an imam pray to Allah over a school loudspeaker. That is also the case with the singing of Silent Night. It's a Christian song, as are most Christmas songs of course, given that the holiday celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ. Why should Jewish and Muslim school children have to sing Christian songs? Again, imagine the uproar if the school decided everyone was required to attend a Seder in the cafeteria at Passover.

The building of the mosque near Ground Zero is another case entirely. Muslims have purchased land to build a building in which Muslims will pray and have services. The people who frequent that mosque will not be forcing anyone else to worship there or to listen to their prayers. This is exactly what the First Amendment is meant to protect. People walk by all sorts of things on their way to and from Ground Zero, including profane and offensive graffiti. Having to walk by a beautiful mosque should be no more offensive than having to walk by the beautiful St. Paul's Chapel.

Timothy McVeigh, a Christian, blew up the Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing many children as well as adults. The Episcopal Cathedral is right across the street and was heavily damaged in the blast. Yet not one person objected to its being rebuilt near that Memorial because a Christian had committed that terrorist act.

Wrapping up xenophobia in outrage over 9/11 does more to dishonor the memory of those who died on that day than does the construction of mosque in a country founded on religious freedom.


Wormwood's Doxy said...

Nicely done, ma'am.


Lisa S. said...

Great response from you, and I appreciated the calm reason from the other respondents. Bookmarking it for future linking next time I get an outraged e-mail about it!

Mary Beth said...

Well said. And, Ground Zero may be hallowed ground....but it's not hallowed only to Christians!

Unknown said...

We must get beyond this ideology of my God is better than your 'god' in this country. We forget that many of the early Celtic Christians who came to this country even brought their so-called Pagan customs with them. In response to Islam, we must not be so ignorant to think that all in this religion are extremists and wish to commit a jihad. There are certainly more extremists in the Christian faith who wish to erradicate "everyone else." The reason why our founding fathers and mothers established the very idea of freedom of religion was because not all of them were Christians. Many were deists, which is to say they believed in God or an aspect of God but did not ascribe to any particular faith or denomination within the Christian faith.

A Muslim community has every right to build their house of worship anywhere they choose just as any other group does in this country. I wish them well.

judyalter said...

Amen, Katie. Thanks for a rational and compassionate look at that situation. I hope I would feel the same way if I'd lost someone on 9/11.

judyalter said...

Amen, Katie. Thanks for a rational and compassionate view of what's become a very emotional issue. I hope I'd feel the same way even if I lost someone on 9/11. It wasn't all Muslims that did that but a fringe minority, and we've got to keep that in mind.

BooCat said...

Sometimes I think that people forget that many Muslims lost friends and family at Ground Zero, too.