Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The "Mosque At Ground Zero"

As a World Religions teacher, I've been closely following the debate over the so-called "mosque at ground zero." The debate has generated much heat and little understanding. I'm glad that the Roman Catholic Archbishop and Governor of New York have asked those involved to lower the volume.

There is much misinformation about this issue. First, what is proposed is not a mosque, but an Islamic Cultural Center with a prayer room. Secondly, this building is not at ground zero-- it's two blocks away. The question I have for those who oppose this as "too close" is: How far away is ok? 4 blocks? 6 blocks? 10 blocks?

What distresses me is the anti-Islam rhetoric. Because of the actions of 20 Islamic extremists, a religion with 1.5 billion followers is being stigmatized. That's just plain wrong. I wouldn't want Christianity judged by Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber and Roman Catholic. I don't think residents of Oklahoma City would have opposed building a Roman Catholic Church two blocks from the Federal Building that was bombed.

America was founded on the principle of religious freedom and I support the freedom of any religion to build a building wherever they want (if it conforms to local laws and ordinances). The argument that building an Islamic Center near ground zero rubs salt in the wounds of those who are grieving for lost loved ones doesn't hold. Islam is not responsible for this horrendous attack-- terrorists who distorted Islam were.

A better model for religious freedom and tolerance exists at the "second" ground zero site on 9-11: the Pentagon. There, just a few hundred feet from this ground zero, a weekly Islamic service is held. I'm proud that there are persons of reason and tolerance among our military. They are lighting the path of freedom for the rest of us.

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