2010-09-03 / Columnists

It’s My Turn

The Mosque: Law and Ethics
By Harold Bendelstein, MD
The author is a former military officer and Walter Reed specialty surgeon. He has in active practice in the Rockaways and is on the surgical and teaching staff of Peninsula Hospital Center and St. John’s Episcopal Hospital. He also holds a degree in advanced Jewish and Religious Studies from Yeshiva University.

Rarely in the history of this country has an issue transfixed this nation with such hardcore divisions. Proponents of the mosque in close proximity to Ground Zero fervently argue that the fundamental element at argument is the first amendment liberty of freedom of religion and the immutable principle of freedom of speech. To deny the right to construct a mosque at this location seems to invoke serious bigotry against Muslims and the denial of the most rudimentary principle of freedom under the Bill of Rights. Clear allusions to the precepts of the first amendment sear of the very core of American freedoms.

Compromise on this point simply cannot be countenanced. Coupled with claims of denial under the equal protection clause within the sacred fourteenth amendment, there would seem little reasonable discourse to oppose this construction. Advocates to the erection of this structure claim that any objection to its inclusion into the New York architectural mix would brand one as a bigot and a repudiator of Constitutional rights to a distinct and growing element in our nation.

Left wing liberals are connoting such individuals as harboring a new mindless hatred which they are dubbing with the neologism of Islamaphobia. Such arguments rightly are difficult to oppose. In truth the opposition has equally compelling reasons. They posit with conviction that the proposed mosque in its proximate demeanor to Ground Zero is an affront to those who lost their lives in the catastrophe of 9/11. It was, after all, Islamic Jihadist terrorists who perpetrated this horror on American soil.

In the aftermath of such a heinous happenstance, how can Muslims erect a monument reflecting their core beliefs when it was staunch proponents of this faith who engaged in this tragic and maniacal assault upon our country. While it may not be the case that moderate Muslims condone this American mini Holocaust, an edifice proclaiming the grandeur of the advocates of the religion whose adherence perpetrated this travesty would seem at least grossly insensitive and inappropriate. At face value this is an extremely compelling point of view. The valid divergent opinions on this matter would seem to place a decision on this matter as the metaphor of the proverbial unstoppable force against an absolute immovable object. Such powerful grounded points of view would seem to leave little room for any serious conciliation.

Emerging information, however, tends to place justification for such opposition. At the outset Abdul Feisul Rauf, the Iman at the center of the mosque proposal remonstrated on 9/30/01 that America was an accessory to the calamity of 9/11, that Osama Bin Laden is an American invention and American foreign policy bears partial responsibility for the 9/11 attacks. Moreover he refuses to condemn Hamas, Islamic terrorism in any form or guarantee that funds from Iran or Saudi Arabia would not be contributing to the erection of this facility. Taken as political ideological elements these factors would seem to abrogate the right of any such proponents from implementing such a controversial Islamic centerpiece.

It would certainly appear as a victory testimonial to American shame and defeat and in this context would be reasonable to oppose. Americans are, however, by nature fair minded people. Discounting the above factual base for the mosque opposition historical precedent seems to argue the same. Consider the not too distant Catholic Church desire to construct a convent at the site of the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz. The purpose seemed to be noble enough.

It would be a facility where nuns would pray and live lives dedicated to ethical religious ideals at a locale where three million Jews were martyred by Nazi atrocities. For whatever logic the Jewish community was uniform in its objection to this building. Organizations across the Jewish political spectrum passionately argued that a church like structure in this location where so many Jews lost their lives would be intensely insensitive in an overall act of humiliation.

Catholic leaders seemed befuddled by this reaction. The venerable Grand Pope John Paul II seemed to adopt a reasonable position. To the great Pope’s logic it would seem impossible for a non-Jew to empathize to feeling what Jews might have regarding this matter. The Pope concluded that regardless of the sincere motives for the Church’s proposal it touched off a great nerve within the Jewish community at large. Rather than create a schism or controversy, the Pope ordered the project aborted. Legally the Pope would have been justified to continue with the structure. The Polish government had sanctioned its construction and all legal impediments were removed. Still the Pope reasoned that legal justification is not sufficient for one’s actions. Moral and ethical forces must also be present in conjunction with legal guarantees for activities in any substance to proceed. Law by itself is not enough. Ethics and morality are also necessary components. It may be one thing for one of the great papal figures in history to adopt a serious moral high road, but is there precedent for similar viewpoints in American constitutional law. The answer is not surprisingly a resounding yes.

The framers of the Constitution had a very deep seated, philosophical concept for constitutional law for framework in an American democracy. While not specifically in the Constitution, the opinions and ideals of our Nation’s framers are written in two sets of documents; they are the Federalist papers penned primarily by Alexander Hamilton and John Adams and the anti-federalist papers authored mainly by Thomas Jefferson. These two writings represented somewhat divergent points of view on the Constitution and our Nation’s principles.

While fundamentally they argued over the proper level of a centralized government, topics engaged were myriad. Of deep interest to both camps was the role of natural law or the biblical ethics of our Heavenly Father. Both groups argued strenuously in these papers and with virtual agreement that the Constitution should essentially put forth legal guarantees of freedom, but that this is coupled with the moral and ethical understanding of the natural law proclaimed by the Bible and its consequent sages. While the Bible in Leviticus proclaims, “Thou shalt proclaim liberty throughout the land,” the emblazoned maxim on the Liberty Bell also exhorts one to love thy neighbor as thyself in the book of Exodus.

Both Adams and Jefferson were adamant in this moral natural law equation as part of our Nation’s democracy. Freedom is not free.

Constitutional human liberties enshrined in the Bill of Rights must by definition be compounded by moral and ethical natural law.

The two are not mutually exclusive but rather complementary and essential. Either is the equal corollary to the other and neither by itself is sustainable. Regarding the mosque, one is left to argue, Does it meet the standard of this dichotomy?

Legally it certainly complies, but morally and ethically it does not pass muster.

Orbiting moral and ethical objections abound on a number of levels. Perhaps in time, when the pain has lessened and more moral mainstream leaders forcefully condemn Jihadist terrorism; maybe if the location was just a little further away and less stinging to some, it would be far less bothersome.

In another form as an interfaith edifice it would certainly meet the moral criteria. In its present form, time and location it simply does not.

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