Posts Tagged ‘religious freedom’

The “Ground Zero Mosque”

August 19, 2010

The proposed “Ground Zero Mosque”—or more accurately, the proposed multi-purpose Muslim community center, Park51—has been at the center of a media firestorm lately. All the usual suspects among the right-wing pundits have been milking the outrage over the planned construction. Some prominent Democrats, such as Harry Reid and Howard Dean, have jumped on the bandwagon. President Obama has backed off his earlier defense of the project. In the face of majority opposition to the project, these politicians are willing to compromise their principles for political expediency. But the fact that a majority of US citizens apparently oppose the Mosque does not make that position just or wise.

From what I gather, many who oppose the community center acknowledge that the developers have the right to build on this site. Instead, the opposition is denouncing the plans as inappropriate. They seem to believe it is insensitive to build a Muslim center so near the site of a catastrophe associated with Islam. Some, such as Newt Gingrich, even suggest that the project is a vindictive triumphalism, that this is some “victory mosque” to celebrate the 9/11 attacks.

Park51 is not next to, will not loom over or be visible from the 9/11 Memorial, will not even be on a prominent route to the Memorial. The proposed project is not a mosque. But really, I don’t care if it was a mosque, or directly connected to the site of the twin towers or the memorial. I don’t feel that the project is insensitive to the US or the pain of caused by 9/11. On the contrary, it is exactly what we as a nation need.

We need the visible presence of sincere Muslims of goodwill—of whom there are many—to take back Islam from the Jihadis and radicals. We need Muslims who reject the corrupt Islam which looms so large in the perception of our nation today, and who want to help heal the devastation done by those who have misappropriated and desecrated the name of their faith. We need Muslims who will declare through their works “That which tore down and destroyed this area is not Islam. This which we do to build and renew is Islam.” We need a presence which can help bridge the divides between us, help overcome the xenophobia which has only grown stronger as a reaction to the work of evil men under the pretense of religion on 9/11. We need their help in taking back the site from the spectre of the terrorists.

The developers of Park51 seem qualified to be that presence. The people and organizations involved with the project, such as the Cordoba Initiative, seem to all be “moderate” Muslim organizations, focused on outreach to the wider community and to multifaith understanding. As Newt Gingrich has suggested, the name Cordoba is significant, but not in the way he believes. Yes, Cordoba was the capital of Muslim Spain. Cordoba was also the land of the most religious freedom in Europe at the time—and for several centuries afterward. The Cordoba Initiative is inspired by that oft forgotten legacy to nurture understanding and respect among different faiths and cultures.

To thwart Park51 would ultimately hurt our nation. It would be a boon to Al-Qaeda and other radical Islamic organizations in their recruiting. They would be able to point to the US’s obstruction of Park51 as further proof of the irreconcilable differences between the West and Islam, that the West is inherently hostile to their faith. Compromise and appeasement only encourages the West to act as bullies, they will say, and thus the only way to communicate with the US and the West is through violence.

More importantly, it will aggravate the divisions between us, alienate Muslims and others who are different from the majority in the nation. Our collective psyche will never mend if we continue to nurse the pain and jealously protect it as our own. Innocent Muslims died on 9/11 as well. The only way to heal the festering wounds caused by 9/11 and our xenophobia is to face them head on, to meet with Muslims of goodwill, to find the common ground we share with them, to have faith in their humanity, and invite them in to share our pain as we share theirs. Park51 can play a role in facilitating that healing process.

As Valerie Elverton-Dixon eloquently put it:

Our true power lies in how we refuse the terrorists our terror, our fear and our suspicion of our Muslim sisters and brother. Our true power and our true strength is that from many we are one. It is from the strength of that unity that gives us the bravery not only to allow an Islamic Community Center two blocks from ground zero, but to welcome and to celebrate it (“Park 51 and America’s Unresolved Pain, Tikkun Daily, 08.19.2010)”.

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Jeffery Nielsen Courageously Takes Another Public Stand

July 3, 2008

Jeffrey Nielsen, professor at Westminster College and UVSC who fired from BYU after writing an editorial questioning the LDS Church’s support of the federal marriage amendment, has again been taking a very public stand as the issue resurfaces. He recently released “An Open Letter to California Mormons.”

I am a member of the Mormon Church, a married heterosexual, and a supporter of marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples. I am asking you to pause and give sincere thought to the letter from our religious leaders you have heard read, or will soon hear read, over our church pulpits asking you to get involved and oppose marriage equality in California. Please think deeply about this, not only as a member of a particular church, but also as a citizen of a democracy.

To press for an amendment to a civil constitution that would legalize discrimination against an entire class of people is no small matter, but of the greatest significance. When the argument, no matter how well intentioned, is based solely upon a religious proclamation; then, I believe, it is a serious contradiction of the wisdom of our founding fathers. It also does tremendous damage to the great progress in civil rights we’ve made in our country respecting the equal dignity of each person and towards a more certain legal equality for all citizens.

You should also know, not all faithful Mormons agree with our religious leaders’ encroachment into political matters. In fact, a growing number of active Mormons, who have gay friends and family members, are coming to the conclusion that our current leaders are as mistaken in promoting discrimination against gays and lesbians as was the Mormon hierarchy in the 60’s when they opposed equal rights for people of color, and our Mormon leaders in the 70’s when they opposed full legal equality for women.

Of course, religious authorities of any denomination possess the right, and may claim the legitimacy, to set the theology and policy for their religious community. When they; however, attempt to interject religious doctrine into the public spaces of a diverse democracy without reasonable justification, then members, especially faithful members, of that religious organization have the civic responsibility to express public disapproval of such dangerous and undemocratic behavior.

No one is asking that you condone a behavior that might violate your religious faith, but we need to allow everyone the freedom to live their life as they see fit, so long as it does not physically harm another person. After all, religious values must be something an individual freely chooses, not something forced upon him or her by the state. We should never allow our constitutions, whether state or federal, to become weapons in a crusade to impose a particular religious value system upon a pluralistic democracy. Today it might be a particular religious value that we affirm, but tomorrow it might be a religious system, which would seek to legislate against our own sincere beliefs. So now is the time to take a stand and keep separate civil and religious authority.

I do not believe that people choose their sexual orientation any more than they choose their skin color or gender. So to discriminate and deny them equal protection and equal opportunity under civil law because of these natural traits; especially in this case, sexual orientation, is grossly unfair and should be rejected outright in a compassionate and just democracy. If anyone could give me a single reasonable argument against marriage equality in our civil society, which doesn’t make fallacious appeals to tradition, misplaced appeals to religious authority, or make some ridiculous claim about nonhuman animals, then I would like to hear it. So far, no one has been able to present me with even a single justifiable reason.

You should know that like you, family and marriage are very important to me. As I have become acquainted with gay and lesbian couples, I have been touched by their goodness, sincerity, and commitment. I am persuaded that allowing marriage equality would, in fact, strengthen the institutions of family and marriage in our country. Perhaps it might even make all of us a little more considerate and responsible as both marriage partners and parents. I can only hope that the citizens of California, and my fellow Mormons, will possess the wisdom and moral decency to reject the call to discriminate against our gay and lesbian coworkers, friends, neighbors, church members, and family.

Bravo.


Listen to his very thought-provoking interview on KCPW
.