Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. – United States Constitution, Amendment 1, 1791.

On September 11, 2001, thousands of first responders heroically rushed to the scene and saved tens of thousands of lives. More than 400 of those first responders did not make it out alive. In rushing into those burning buildings, not one of them asked, “What God do you pray to? What beliefs do you hold?”

The attack was an act of war – and our first responders defended not only our City but also our country and our Constitution. We do not honor their lives by denying the very Constitutional rights they died protecting. We honor their lives by defending those rights – and the freedoms that the terrorists attacked. – New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, August 4, 2010.

The Cordoba House. Or, according to the talking heads and radio pundits, the Ground Zero Mosque. Discussion of this project in the media has inflamed so many passions and caused so many to get their knickers in a wad. Let’s try and set the record straight.

The Cordoba House project is not on the Ground Zero site. It is two blocks north of the World Trade Center site. There are two Christian churches closer to Ground Zero: St. Peter’s Catholic Church (one block away) and St. Paul’s Episcopal (across the street). The proposed Cordoba House site is not a landmark building; it is a damaged building that housed a Burlington Coat Factory store.

Far from being the radicals that so many have portrayed them as, the Cordoba Initiative “…aims to achieve a tipping point in Muslim-West relations within the next decade, steering the world back to the course of mutual recognition and respect and away from heightened tensions.” According to their website, “This proposed project is about promoting integration, tolerance of difference and community cohesion through arts and culture. Cordoba House will provide a place where individuals, regardless of their backgrounds, will find a center of learning, art and culture; and most importantly, a center guided by Islamic values in their truest form – compassion, generosity, and respect for all.” The mosque will be but one part of a community center that will also house a 500-seat auditorium, swimming pool, art exhibition spaces, bookstores, restaurants, and other amenities that will make it a cultural hub for Lower Manhattan.

The Cordoba Initiative owns the property. They have every right to develop it as they see fit. Any ruling from a governing body that would attempt to stop them from exercising their right to religious freedom would be immediately thrown out of court as unconstitutional. For many, however, it’s not just a question of law.

There are those critics of Islam and Shariah law that cite its incompatibility with the freedoms protected under American law, especially the provisions that allow treatment of women as second-class beings. A little research shows that not all Muslims are radical believers and interpreters of Shariah, just as not all Christians are radical fundamentalists.

For many others, however, the question is one of allowing Muslims to “…build a mosque to propagate their religion of violence and hated a block away from where their Muslim brothers perpetrated the greatest act of terror on U.S. soil.” That juicy quote comes from a controversial “Christian” televangelist named Bill Keller. Keller has forgotten about the Muslims who were in the World Trade Center buildings as they fell on 9/11, those Muslims who responded to the site to render aid and assistance, and those Muslims who were innocent passengers on the aircraft that struck the towers.

Keller also seems to have forgotten about Christ’s overriding message of loving one’s enemies, and how He distilled ten commandments into two: love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might; and love your neighbor as yourself. I don’t recall seeing any exceptions for Muslims.

If we are ever to move away from bigotry and hatred, we need to promote tolerance and understanding in our society – the One Human Family creed must apply to all. Otherwise, if we accept this darkness of the soul under the guise of Americanism and patriotism, we descend to the level of the radicals who hijacked both aircraft and religion on 9/11. We must recognize that intolerant opposition to the Cordoba House project is both un-Christian and un-American.

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