Religious freedom to the rescue

The New York City community board endorsed the Cordoba House, a community center and mosque planned for construction near Ground … Continued

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.

  • cianwn

    Well said, Mr. Prothero. Americans need to learn that disagreement with the ideas/actions of others is no justification for attempt to restrict the rights of other citizens.

  • Adrian_Wainer

    ” Well said, Mr. Prothero. Americans need to learn that disagreement with the ideas/actions of others is no justification for attempt to restrict the rights of other citizens. ” Dear CIANWN concerning your posting above, Islamonazis and Islamofascists have neither moral nor legal right to turn the United States of America in to an Islamist terror state and anybody who believes they have such right and seeks to enforce such a perceived right by pursuing this Mosque project against all good sense and judgement, is likely to be going to live in as the Chinese say, “in intresting times”,.

  • Adrian_Wainer

    ” 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. “If RLUIPA can be used to force this Mosque project through, RLUIPA needs to be amended or struck off the statute book and if that can’t be done, New York State State needs to invoke the The Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, December 15, 1791.

  • cianwn

    Adrian, building a mosque is not synonymous with turning the US into anything. It’s simply building a place of worship like all other religions do every day in this country. You’d do well to drop your extremist rhetoric and learn some respect for your fellow citizens.

  • Athena4

    Freedom of Religion means EVERY religion – not just ones that you don’t like. I suppose you’d rather have a rat-infested hulk of a warehouse near Ground Zero? Because that’s what that building is now. I mean, this is New York City. In two blocks, you can be in a whole different world. (Example A: Chinatown and Little Italy)

  • 1244lkm

    Yes, two blocks in Manhattan is the long distance between scary and posh, this site is NOT on Ground Zero, is in fact nowhere near. And the site itself is surrounded on all sides by commerce, after all. As a member of a different religious minority I find this “controversy” threatening and un-American. We do not prohibit religious expression in this country, nor do we say where we are willing to allow it. A mosque that teaches tolerance and interfaith understanding is just what lower Manhattan needs.