Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Foes of Planned Mosque Near N.Y.'s Ground Zero Have No Constitutional Right to Stop It

It's on Private Property Owned by Muslims; They Have Every Right Under the First Amendment's Guarantee of Freedom of Religion to Build a House of Worship on Their Property -- Lawsuit to Stop Proposed Mosque Filed By Conservative Group Founded By Christian Evangelist Pat Robertson Should Be Thrown Out

Controversy continued to build over construction of a proposed mosque on this New York City block near Ground Zero, the site of the World Trade Center towers that were destroyed in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Opponents of the mosque have become more vocal -- including Republicans who have vowed to make it a campaign issue in the fall. Lawyers with ties to Christian evangelist Pat Robertson have sued to block construction of the mosque, but are unlikely to be successful -- and could provoke a First Amendment freedom-of-religion countersuit by the Muslim owners of the property.  (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

(Posted 5:00 a.m. EDT Tuesday, August 17, 2010)


It's a controversy that's been building for months and now threatens to explode into a major First Amendment battle over Muslims' constitutional right to freedom of worship.

It also threatens to further roil an already volatile midterm election campaign.

"It" is proposed mosque to be built on private, Muslim-owned property in New York near Ground Zero, the site of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, when 19 al-Qaida extremists hijacked four California-bound airliners shortly after takeoff. Two of them, American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175, were slammed into the World Trade Center, destroying the landmark twin towers and killing more than 3,000 people.

Lawyers from a conservative group founded by Christian evangelist Pat Robertson have filed a lawsuit to block the mosque. But the lawsuit by Robertson's American Center for Law and Justice is very likely to fail -- and could even provoke a First Amendment freedom-of-religion countersuit by the Muslim owners of the property.


Plans to build the mosque on a private, Muslim-owned property located on Park Place, just two blocks from Ground Zero, had been controversial from the day they were announced in May. The planned 13-story mosque and cultural center would replace a building that formerly housed a clothing store and has stood unused since the 9/11 attacks, its interiors heavily damaged by debris from the fallen twin towers. The project includes a 500-seat theater and athletic center.

Imam Feisel Abdul Rauf, who helped found the Cordoba Initiative following the 9/11 attacks and whose organization is spearheading the project, along with the American Society for Muslim Advancement, said the proposed Islamic center is intended to foster better relations between the West and Muslims and that it would be open to the general public.

Rauf, the imam, or spiritual leader, of the nearby Al-Farah Mosque on West Broadway, purchased the property last December for $4.85 million, according to official city records. The 29-year-old, 175-member Al-Farah congregation is made up primarily of Sufi Muslims who practice a more spiritually-focused, mystical tradition of Islam, according to NY Resident magazine.

Plans call for the mosque to be completed in time for the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks in 2011. When completed, the mosque could house as many as 2,000 people for Friday prayers.


Rauf is an author and longtime activist who's made it his personal mission since the 9/11 attacks to improve relations between the Muslim world and the West. He has been imam of the al-Farah Mosque since 1983. The 62-year-old native of Kuwait, who has lived in the United States since 1965 and has been a naturalized U.S. citizen since 1977, said in an interview with NY Resident magazine, that the American system of government, with its principles of tolerance, is a paragon of Islamic ideals -- even if the country sometimes falls short of those values.

He is the author of three books on Islam and its place in contemporary Western society, including What's Right with Islam. In a September 30, 2001 interview on CBS's "60 Minutes," Rauf condemned the 9/11 attacks as un-Islamic. "Fanaticism and terrorism have no place in Islam." he said. "That's just as absurd as associating Hitler with Christianity, or David Koresh with Christianity. There are always people who will do peculiar things, and think that they are doing things in the name of their religion. But the Koran is... God says in the Koran that they think that they are doing right, but they are doing wrong."


But in that same interview, Rauf said that the attacks were, in part, "a reaction against the U.S. government politically, where we espouse principles of democracy and human rights, [but] where we ally ourselves with oppressive regimes in many of these countries."

And in a 2004 comment made while on a visit to Australia that drew criticism back home, Rauf compared the 9/11 attacks to the Western allies' firebombing of the German city of Dresden and nuclear bombing of the Japanese city of Hiroshima during World War II. "The Islamic method of waging war is not to kill innocent civilians," he said. "But it was Christians in World War II who bombed civilians in Dresden and Hiroshima, neither of which were military targets."

Rauf also called on the U.S. government to reduce the threat of terrorism by altering its policies in the Middle East, particularly the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Ironically, the State Department announced last week that it was sending Rauf on a religious outreach trip to the Persian Gulf states of Qatar, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates to talk about Muslim life in America and to promote religious tolerance -- a move that drew sharp criticism from conservatives.


The two Muslim organizations in charge of the project say that the $100 million complex will create a venue for mainstream Islam and a counterbalance to the extremism that motivated the 9/11 hijackers. But from the beginning, the planned mosque has been under fire from relatives of 9/11 victims, who say they are deeply offended by the mosque being built so close to where their loved ones were killed.

That many families of 9/11 victims oppose the mosque being located so close to Ground Zero is understandable, given the tremendous emotional trauma they suffered. Nancy Nee of Long Island, whose brother, George Cain, a New York City firefighter, was killed when the twin towers collapsed, told AOL News on August 4 that she wanted Muslims to be able to build a community center -- but somewhere farther away from Ground Zero.

"We're upset," Nee said. "Not at the fact that Muslims have a right to practice their religion here ... we're not like that. But I feel that it's a slap in the face to put it close to Ground Zero."

"I think it's an insult, an in-your-face insult, to the families of the victims of 9/11," said Leonard Castrianno, Sr. of Amherst, N.Y., who lost his son, Leonard, Jr., in the attack. "What makes it more insulting is that they want to [finish the] building on [the tenth anniversary of the attacks] on 9/11/11," he told the Buffalo News.


Unfortunately, the opposition also includes a passel of anti-Muslim bigots and Christian supremacists -- including a controversial right-wing Christian evangelist, Bill Keller, who announced in July that he would counter the mosque with a nearby Christian center.

"How do you battle the darkness? With the light!" the fundamentalist Keller declared on his 9/11 Christian Center at Ground Zero Web site, which is laced with vicious anti-Muslim invectives. Keller says he wants to take "an ongoing stand" against the mosque and "combat this new evil being constructed near Ground Zero" and "bring people the Truth of God's Word and the love and hope of Jesus Christ!"

Mark Williams, the former chairman of the Tea Party Express, touched off a firestorm of controversy in June, when, in a blog post on his Web site, MarkTalk.com, he denounced the proposed mosque as "a monument to the 9/11 terrorists" and a place "for the worship of the terrorists' monkey-god," according to the New York Daily News. Williams resigned as chairman of Tea Party Express to devote full-time to fighting against the mosque.

In late June, thousands staged a protest against the proposed mosque, a demonstration that was virtually ignored by the mainstream media -- including the conservative-leaning Fox News Channel and the New York Post -- but which received heavy coverage on numerous right-wing Web sites, including that of Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network.


The furor over the proposed mosque became a campaign issue in the upcoming midterm congressional elections Friday when President Obama spoke out in support of the project during a White House dinner marking the eve of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

"Let me be clear," the president said. "As a citizen, and as president, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country. 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 unshakable," Obama added.

The president's remarks drew almost immediate criticism from Republicans, with some promising to make the mosque a campaign issue. Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas), chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said on "Fox News Sunday" that the president's remarks "demonstrate that Washington, the White House, the administration, the president himself seems to be disconnected from the mainstream of America."

Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-Maryland), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, promptly fired back. Appearing on CNN's "State of the Union," Van Hollen said that the president "stating the principle that under our great constitution, we do not discriminate against people based on their religion." Van Hollen added that "it would be wrong to politicize the issue" and that New Yorkers should be left to discuss it.


Meanwhile, a conservative group founded by Robertson filed suit in New York state court, seeking to overturn the unanimous vote of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission to deny landmark status for the damaged former Burlington Coat Factory building, paving the way for its demolition to make way for the mosque.

The lawsuit charges that the city violated its own policies and procedures in rejecting landmark status and exhibited "an arbitrary and capricious abuse of discretion and contrary to decades of administrative precedent."

It is highly unlikely that the ACLJ's lawsuit will succeed -- or even if it will be heard. Not only is the suit likely to be dismissed on the grounds that the Muslim owners of the property have every right under the First Amendment to a build a house of worship on their Park Place property, but as lawyers for an organization founded by a Christian evangelist with a long record of making highly controversial statements -- including a slam at Islam last November as a "violent political system" -- they might not have legal standing to bring suit to stop the mosque in the first place.

In any case, Robertson's group is skating on dangerously thin legal ice. The Muslim owners of the property could file a countersuit accusing Robertson's group of seeking to force the city to deny them the right to build their mosque, which would clearly violate their First Amendment right to freedom of worship on their own property.

The fact is, the Muslims who purchased the Park Place property did so in full compliance with the law. They own it. They have every right under the First Amendment to build a house of worship on it, if that is want they want to do.

Neither the 9/11 families, nor all the politicians, Islamophobic bigots and Christian supremacists who oppose the mosque have any constitutional right to stop it. Period. End of story.

# # #

Volume V, Number 31
Copyright 2010, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.


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Anonymous said...

Then .. it would be alright to building a Christian worship center, Jewish Temple, or Catholic Church near Mecca, or Saudi Arabia, or any of the Islamic countries that currently persecute Jews and Christians?

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