I am an American, a New Yorker, a Westchester attorney and not necessarily in that order, nor is that all there is to me. Yet, all of these components of my being are reacting differently to the proposed erection of a mosque near Ground Zero.
It has been 9 years and the memory may be fading for some Americans but it still hits a raw nerve for New Yorkers. We still see the void each and every day. We still see the construction crews each and every day. We still travel the subways and jump now at the sound of sirens, each and every time……….whereas before 9/11 they were just part of the background noise.
Right now, there is fierce debate going on over the proposal to knock down a historic building and erect a center for Muslim culture in its place. Landmark preservationists are using the “historic” term to hide their true anti-Moslem feelings because if the current building was so “treasured” why was it housing a discount clothing outlet prior to now? Really?
Let’s put things in perspective. We have a Constitution that conservatives and liberals wave about as it suits their needs but at the heart of that document is the very thing those Moslem extremists ENVY and tried to eradicate in those 9/11 attacks. It is called Freedom of Religion. We, as Americans, can choose whatever deity or dogma we desire, be it Catholicism, Judaism or even Wiccan. They cannot. By prohibiting them from building a mosque so close to what has become a permanent graveyard for thousands of people, are we not giving them exactly what they tried to accomplish? The very tenet our nation was built on, freedom for all, would be limited by such an extremist view on our part.
Further, developers say the cultural center will be just that and while it will include a room for Muslim prayer, there will be recreational facilities along with a memorial to the victims of 9/11. Should we not embrace this effort by the Muslim community to put the past behind us and try to heal? Perhaps tolerance with extreme vigilance will provide New Yorkers with preservation of freedom and security for its homeland at the same time. Maybe, just maybe, the developers should invite members of the 9/11 survivors to take part in planning the memorial. Let’s not forget that Moslems also died in those attacks – Moslems who were just going to work that day, just like Christians, Jews and atheists.
On a more practical level, there is a federal statute in place called the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA). Its main purpose is to provide religious freedom in the land use context and it has been strenuously upheld by federal courts from coast to coast. If this comes to loggerheads in court, not only will it drag out for years but it’s unlikely NYC will prevail in banning this proposal.