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The New York City community board endorsed the Cordoba House, a community center and mosque planned for construction near Ground Zero.
Significant opposition has emerged against the project. Sarah Palin even weighed in this weekend, tweeting, “Peace-seeking Muslims, pls understand, Ground Zero mosque is UNNECESSARY provocation; it stabs hearts. Pls reject it in interest of healing.”
Should there be a mosque near Ground Zero?
I have weighed in elsewhere on the virtues of building an Islamic community center and mosque at Ground Zero. So I will not rehearse my arguments here. Neither will I “refudiate” Sarah Palin’s pleas to kill this project.
I will say, however, that the recent anti-mosque machinations are, as a matter of law, moot. A developer, Sharif El-Gamal, owns the land and the building. He wants to build an Islamic community center and mosque. And he will be free to do so, either by tearing down the existing building and rebuilding or, if by some quirk of law and politics this former Burlington Coat Factory is given landmark status, by renovating the existing structure.
If El-Gamal continues to receive opposition to this project on religious grounds, as he did on July 13 at a Landmarks Preservation Commission hearing from groups such as the Stop Islamization of America, he will have a slam dunk case under powerful legislation pushed into law, ironically, by many of the same people on the Religious Right now opposed so adamantly to this community center and mosque.
The Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) is a federal statue enacted in 2000 by unanimous consent in both the House and the Senate. Its purpose is to safeguard the religious liberties of Americans, including groups whose places of worship are under fire by local zoning boards or nearby citizens.
In other words, this statute is tailor-made for situations just like this one, where citizens are opposing a building project on religious grounds. RLUIPA calls such reasons discriminatory, and comes to the defense of those discriminated against with all the force of federal law.
So we can continue to debate this matter for as long as we want. But if El-Gamal wants to go forward with this project, he will be able to do so, and there is nothing–nothing lawful at least–that Sarah Palin or Stop Islamization of America can do to block him.