I find myself in the unfamiliar position of defending President Obama against many of my fellow conservatives on the issue of the rights of those who wish to build a mosque complex on the site near the 9/11 tragedy in New York City.
As a Jew one of the things I am most sensitive to is the liberty of religious freedom and expression. As a people, we Jews have witnessed and been made victim to centuries of ethnic/racial/religious cleansing and bigotry. We are even seeing remnants of this kind of intolerant hatred coming from our own in the State of Israel today by a band of ultra-orthodxy and their attack on the Law of Return and the definition of "Who is a Jew".
However, in the United States one of the bastions of freedom has been the constitutional guarantee of the freedom to exercise a religious belief without governmental interference or control. It has been rightly stated in the past that the foundation stones of liberty as stated in the U.S. Constitution are:
1. Freedom of speech (a free press)
2. The right to bear arms and,
3. Freedom of religious expression.
Removal of any one of these three would undermine said liberty and bring an end to the kind of freedom envisioned by the nation's founders. Without all three fully entrenched in the hearts and minds of its people, America would simply be a faded copy of a weak and demoralized democratic Europe whose residents honestly think their psuedo-liberty is real freedom.
In a White House speech delivered during a dinner to acknowledge the end of the first fast day of the Islamic celebration of Ramadan (a dinner hosted by Presidents going back to Thomas Jefferson), the President said he fully understands how many feel about the idea of a mosque being placed on the "hallowed ground" of the 9/11 site, but more important is the defense of the hallowed ground of America's "committment to religious freedom" and that committment must remain "unshakable" even when it leaves a sour taste in our mouths.
As much as I loathe the idea of anything related to Islam being a part of the 9/11 area I must never forget that those responsible for what took place on that horrific day have killed more Muslims over the years than any one else and many American Muslims died in those two towers when all they were doing was their daily jobs and living out their lives as free Americans. What happen on 9/11 had little to do with religion or faith and much to do with terror, hate and intolerance. Should we who remain carry on that tradition of hate or can we move on from it to something better? Perhaps the real test of our nation's resolve and dedication to its Constitutional perogatives is being measured by our response to this very thing.
Is it a Constitutional right for those who wish to build their mosque on this site? Absolutely and unequivocally yes. BUT: a real question for Islam, as a religious movement that claims to stand for peace, tolerance and boasts of its sensitivity to the needs of its surrounding communities, is it appropriate? I think not!