I’m feeling burdened by the bigotry and ignorance of people who are objecting to the Cordoba Institute’s community center (and yes, mosque) at a location in lower Manhattan near the World Trade Center. (The so-called “Ground Zero Mosque.”)
Although some of the rhetoric has de-escalated to “they may have the right to build it, but it is insensitive,” I find that most of what is said is out-and-out religious bigotry. People who say Western Civilization is built on Judeo-Christian ethics. People who call Muslims ragheads. I won’t link to it, but if you search for “Joseph Phillips Ground Zero Mosque” you’ll find an opinion essay with this ugly morsel:
There is a small segment of the left that simply hates America. There is no other way to describe it. These hard-core leftists do not respect America’s traditions or institutions, so they are comrades-in-arms with any force that seeks to undermine or insult those institutions and they rush to stand in opposition to anything that smacks of patriotism or national pride.
If you read the version that’s at bighollywood, you’ll find a commenter named “TrueBlueMormon” who defends his use of the term “ragheads” by saying “facts are facts, they do wear rags on their heads, it is a cultural thing.” Well then, I suppose he won’t mind when I refer to his magic underwear. The irony is so, so sad.
But my support for the Cordoba Institute’s community center is not just a reaction to know-nothings, xenophobes, and religious bigots.
I support the community center because local government is an American value. The elected regulatory boards and the mayor of New York City have approved and defended the community center construction.
I actually think that most Americans treat private property as an idol, but since the laws do, indeed, tend to privilege private ownership over public good, then those laws should be equally applied.
I support the community center because freedom of religion is a bedrock American value. I support the community center because this is the result of not supporting freedom of religion:
That is a statue of Mary Dyer by Sylvia Shaw Judson. It sits just down the street from where I work, in front of the Massachusetts State House. Mary Dyer was hanged on Boston Common on June 1, 1660 for being a Quaker. She had earlier been sentenced with William Robinson and Marmaduke Stevenson, who were hanged on October 27th, 1659.
Joan Walsh has written a wonderful essay reminding Roman Catholics of their history in the United States.
Until today, I had always thought the belief that Catholics couldn’t be “unambiguously Catholic and American,” or that the Catholic Church had “illiberal tendencies,” represented prejudice, the kind of prejudice that collided with and eventually gave way to American ideals about equality and religious freedom. I didn’t realize my people had to be “inspired” into fully embracing “the virtues of democracy” by Nativists, often by violence: from Charlestown, Mass, where Nativists burned a Catholic convent in 1834, to Philadelphia in 1844 (where thousands of Nativists attacked Irish Catholics, derided as “scum unloaded on American wharfs,” burned Catholic churches and convents, invaded the homes of Irish Catholics and beat residents), to St. Louis, where a Nativist riot against Irish Catholics killed 10 and destroyed 93 Irish Catholic homes and businesses, or Louisville, Ky., where Nativist mobs killed at least two dozen Catholics on “Bloody Monday,” Aug. 6, 1855.
There are, sadly, two American approaches to freedom of religion. I’m glad that the one that hangs people of other religions and burns down their houses of worship lost. I support the Cordoba Institute’s community center because all the arguments I’ve seen against it boil down to religious intolerance at best or religious bigotry and hatred or worse.