two more in Brooklyn and Staten Island. In a nation where religious freedom is cherished,
in a country where tolerance is a key tenet, in a union where we pride ourselves on not having
the sectarian conflicts so prevalent in other parts of the world; the people of New York
welcomed the chance to open new houses of worship...right?
There have been community meetings about all the proposals. The New York Times
reports some people objected to increased traffic and parking concerns. However, the vast
majority of objections have been over concerns involving terrorism, Islam, and the connection
between the two. The most strident meeting was on Staten Island, where a Catholic parish
wishes to sell the convent to a Muslim group to be used for Friday prayer. According to the
Times, similar protests about new mosques have broken out in Tennessee, Wisconsin, and
About four hundred people showed up to protest opening the new mosque on Staten
Island. They accused the Muslim-American Society, the umbrella organization which finds
placement for new mosques, of being on the FBI terrorist watch list. (It isn't.) They demanded
the Muslims present condemn Hamas and Hezbollah. In response, the Muslim moderator
said he denounced any form of terrorism, all acts of terror by individuals or governments.
At one point, a Marine Lance Corporal just back from Afghanistan stood up. He was cheered.
He asked the Muslim panel if they would work to form a bond with the community? They
answered yes. He turned and asked the crowd the same question and they booed him and
Imagine a Jewish group wanting to open a new synagogue on Staten Island. There is a
meeting with a panel of rabbis. They are asked about their view on whether Jewish law is
better than democracy. Will they follow God's laws or America's laws? They are asked about
their view of women and how they are treated in orthodox communities where they are second
class citizens and are not allowed to pray in a minyan with men and do the rabbis consider
women to be equal to men? They are then asked to condemn Israel's recent attack on ships
trying to resupply Gaza and whether they were in favor or opposed to the assassination of
Yitzhak Rabin? Those asking the questions would be accused of rampant anti-semitism,
racism, and prejudice. They would definitely be denounced in the media and in some
communities, as narrow-minded bigots.
Suppose an evangelical Protestant group wanted to open a new church on the island.
Would it be appropriate to ask them if they favor the bombing of planned parenthood clinics?
Would they have to denounce the terrorism campaign being waged in this country against
doctors who perform abortions, a campaign with its roots in evangelical churches across
this nation? Should the people of Staten Island worry about doctors being assassinated while
standing in their kitchen or while they are ushers at their local church? Not in a million years
would anyone get away with questions like that because they would be accused of painting all
Christians with the same brush. We would be reminded how Christianity is not a monolithic
religion, how this is America where people are allowed to believe differently, where people are
allowed to disagree, and a place where no one is judged for the actions of a few extremists.
What if the Catholic parish selling the convent wanted to open a new school instead.
Would hundreds of angry protesters show up to try to stop it? Would they attack a panel of
bishops and priests demanding to know if they denounce child abuse and covering up sexual
scandals? Would the priests be asked their views on women who are denied the ability to be
priests and whom the Church does not believe should control their own reproductive lives?
What would the panel say about the rights of gays and lesbians? Would their children be
allowed to attend the school? Do the priests consider homosexuality to be a morally inherent
evil? What about the call to excommunicate any politician who is pro-choice? Does the Roman
Catholic Church believe in separation of church and state? And what about the six Catholic
members currently serving on our nation's highest court? Should they have been asked in
confirmation hearings if their personal religious beliefs will influence their interpretation of
Compared to Muslims, Jews, evangelical Christians, and Catholics would face few if any
questions. The end result being, that it would be rare indeed for any of these groups to be
denied a new church, school, or synagogue because of their religion's faith and tenets.
The people who are angry, scared, or worried about the opening of new mosques are
hypocrites of the highest order. They make the Pharisees look like a picture of tolerance.
Oddly, their fear is well-founded, but misplaced. The real boogey-man they are frightened by
is fundamentalism. Fundamentalist Jews, Christians, or Muslims are a real threat to American
values. We have nothing to fear from Muslims, Christians, or Jews who practice their faith
based on tolerance, love, forgiveness, and care. However, we have everything to fear from
radically intolerant fundamentalists who believe they are right and everyone else is wrong.
America already has its own homegrown terrorists. Those illiterate Americans whose
theological education never went beyond Sunday school. The people in that audience which
met on Staten Island are no better than fundamentalists. To hear them tell it, it's always the
"other" religion that is the religion of violence, terror, etc.; while their radical belief is
somehow God's will and therefore acceptable.
The scene in New York shows once again that most Americans don't deserve America,
that most religious Americans are no different than the Pharisees of Jesus' time, and that they
are in direct line for judgment in how they have treated others. God's promise. And by the
way, the position of any Muslim on the legitimacy or continued existence of the state of Israel
has no place in the debate over a new mosque. This is America and Muslims have the right to
believe anything they wish vis-a-vis international politics. What do you think? I welcome
your comments and rebuttals. Please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org