When did supporting the freedom of religion become unpatriotic? Isn’t it odd that many of those politicians who claim or suggest that they are the “true Americans” upholding American values are among those not defending this nation’s cherished Constitutional Right to freedom of religion and expression?
On Friday (8/13/10), President Obama spoke at an iftar (nightly dinner at which Ramadan fast is broken) at the White House. He noted that “Islam has always been a part of America” and that President Thomas Jefferson hosted the first iftar at the White House more than 200 years ago for the first Muslim ambassador to the United States, a Tunisian. (click here for entire transcript)
With respect to the proposed Islamic Center near Ground Zero, the President stated in part:
“…As a citizen, and as President, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country. (Applause.) And that includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in Lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances. This is America. And our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakeable. The principle that people of all faiths are welcome in this country and that they will not be treated differently by their government is essential to who we are. The writ of the Founders must endure.
“We must never forget those who we lost so tragically on 9/11, and we must always honor those who led the response to that attack -– from the firefighters who charged up smoke-filled staircases, to our troops who are serving in Afghanistan today. And let us also remember who we’re fighting against, and what we’re fighting for. Our enemies respect no religious freedom. Al Qaeda’s cause is not Islam -– it’s a gross distortion of Islam. These are not religious leaders -– they’re terrorists who murder innocent men and women and children. In fact, al Qaeda has killed more Muslims than people of any other religion -– and that list of victims includes innocent Muslims who were killed on 9/11…” (emphasis added)
NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg supported the President’s remarks, which reminded him of President George Washington:
“Two hundred and twenty years ago this week, the Father of Our Country penned his famous letter to the Jewish Community of Newport Rhode Island or, as he called them, 'the Children of the Stock of Abraham.' President Obama's words tonight evoked President Washington's own August reminder that 'all possess alike liberty.”
But Rick A. Lazio, Republican candidate for NY governor and a former member of the House of Representatives, sees things differently. He issued a statement late Friday, which states in part,
“President Obama and Attorney General Cuomo still are not listening to New Yorkers. With over 100 mosques in New York City, this is not an issue of religion, but one of safety and security through transparency. Since calling for transparency the first week of July along with several of the groups representing the victim’s families, I have been joined by the Anti-Defamation League, Governor George Pataki, Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Representative Peter King in calling for the Attorney General Andrew Cuomo to open the books of the Cordoba Initiative, a registered charity with the Attorney General’s office…”
Yesterday, President Obama followed-up his Friday remarks with, “I was not commenting, and I will not comment, on the wisdom of making a decision to put a mosque there.”
September Eleventh Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, “founded by family members of those killed on September 11th who have united to turn our grief into action for peace,” doesn’t agree with Mr. Lazio:
“September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows strongly supports efforts to bring an Islamic Cultural Center to lower Manhattan, near the Ground Zero site. We believe that welcoming the Center, which is intended to promote interfaith tolerance and respect, is consistent with fundamental American values of freedom and justice for all.
“We believe, too, that this building will serve as an emblem for the rest of the world that Americans stand against violence, intolerance and overt acts of racism and that we recognize that the evil acts of a few must never damn the innocent.” (emphasis added)
What Mr. Lazio and his ilk are doing is a common strategy used by debaters, attorneys and politicians alike—reframing the issue—because, after all, it looks bad not to be on the side of protecting the Constitution. Obviously, it doesn’t matter how many mosques are in New York City. And of course this isn’t an issue of safety and security. This is political maneuvering at its very worse, exploiting the pain and suffering of those who were directly affected by 9/11, at the expense of our Constitution.