2010-09-17 / Columnists

The Progressive

Religious Liberty
By John Paul Culotta

It is ironic that the fiercest opponents of the building of mosques and Islamic cultural centers are adherents of strict interpretation of the Constitution and people who were denied opportunities and rights because of their religious beliefs. Many tea party advocates and the GOP are fostering a minefield of intolerance for political gain. This at a time when the nation needs to debate the disastrous war policies of the Pentagon, the continuing widening economic gap between the wealthy and less privileged of our society, how to decrease the deficit, and how to get more Americans secure and adequate employment prospects. Instead the nation is debating the desire of our Islamic neighbors to build a cultural center and mosque near Ground Zero.

This debate may help Mr. Lazio and other conservative demagogues obtain cheap publicity and possible electoral victory, but enhance the prospects of intolerance and violence here and abroad. This type of debate which questions and demands all Moslems to agree to a concept that they are responsible for the tragic events of September 11 nine years ago, is inappropriate.

Moslems come from all parts of the globe and have many different cultural and political beliefs and practices. Albania and Kosovo in Europe are predominantly Moslem. Indonesia is predominantly Moslem. Many Filipinos are Moslem. Many republics of the former Soviet Union are predominantly Moslem. Many in sub-Saharan Africa are Moslem. The Indian subcontinent has many Moslems. Many of these Moslems have little interest in exterminating Jews as stated in a recent column in this very newspaper.

I remember the horrific events of September 11. I knew some people who perished in the attack. My nephew was a firefighter involved in the rescue and recovery efforts. All my friends and neighbors know someone or lost someone because of the attack. Some are opposed to the building of the Islamic center near Ground Zero but that does not mean their pain and sorrow should lead to a society that negates our heritage of religious liberty. All the Roman Catholics, Jews and Mormons who remember the insults, violence and denial of civil rights of our nation’s past should respect the victims’ feelings while holding fast to the rights of all Americans to practice religion without fear and hatred expressed by their neighbors.

I do not often agree with billionaire Michael Bloomberg and yet on this issue I must. There must not be impositions to the building of any religious building.

Almost all those opposed to the building near Ground Zero know the Moslems have the right, and I may add, the responsibility to confront America on this fact.

To make demands before they build is insulting and un-American.

To demand that the Moslems agree to Zionism is unfair.

We cannot demand that Roman Catholics accept marriage between homosexuals and to stop opposing abortion.

There may be some who feel that the fanatics who shoot physicians that provide abortions as a service are encouraged by the Roman Catholic Church by their strong vocal opposition to abortion.

Some Mormons secretly practice polygamy and no group demands that the Mormons guarantee that no one in their congregation practice polygamy.

Many believe circumcision is a violation of a baby’s rights and a barbaric practice and we cannot demand that practice stop.

To hold Moslems to demands and investigations without cause cannot be constructional and the politicians know this.

It is sad and yet regrettably understandable that it is not just near Ground Zero that the building of a mosque is opposed.

All over this nation, Americans are organizing to oppose their neighbors in building a place of worship.

It is notable that Moslems are allowed to worship at the Pentagon – another September 11 target.

It is also sad that so many Jewish Americans are opposing the mosque near Ground Zero because they fear the building will be used as a vehicle to oppose Israeli policies. This is understandable but many Americans, including many of my Jewish friends, are opposed to some Israeli policies.

It is also sad that many Christians are opposed to the Islamic Center near Ground Zero because they feel Moslems wish to show their victory over our nation. What Victory? There is no evidence that their purpose was to claim some glory to the attack of September 11. The founder of the Christian faith asked to love our enemy and be willing to forgive. There is no evidence the people who wish to build the center are responsible for the attacks or support such activity. Why do we demonstrate such hostility? Christians have an obligation to demonstrate love and forgiveness and not give in to fear and hate. It is true we must defend our family, friends, neighbors, and nation and yet love our enemies according to the teachings of Jesus!

I know one Moslem physician who shares his practice with a Jewish physician. He is a man who helps people of all faiths and he is my neighbor. How can anyone claim Moslems have in their DNA a desire to exterminate all Jews as one commentator has said? We cannot allow this type of bigotry to continue.

I am proud to be a friend to many Jewish Americans who are also neighbors that say the Islamic Center should be built.

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