by Elinor Tatum
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.—The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution
The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution provides for freedom of religion, a key principle that these United States were founded on. America was supposedly created as a bastion for freedom, leaving the oppressive rule of the British across the ocean.
We fought the Revolutionary War to be free from the British and the Civil War so that our people could be free from slaveholders. We fought the Second World War to save those in foreign lands from tyranny. And today, we are in Afghanistan fighting the Taliban on the same principles, the ideas that there should be freedom of religion and real opportunity in their lands.
So why, when an Islamic group wants to start a mosque and a cultural center in Lower Manhattan, should there be a different standard?
The fact is that many of those that do not want a mosque in Lower Manhattan don’t really want another mosque anywhere. They have no respect for Islam or the rights of practicing Muslims. It does not matter if it is Staten Island or Buffalo; to those that it seems to offend, it offends wherever it is. If we as society were not and should not have been opposed to a mosque in Lower Manhattan before 9/11, should we be opposed now? Just a question.
We cannot have different standards for different religions, and despite what some think, Jews, Muslims and Christians all pray to the same God. We cannot say that one religion is safer than the other. Almost every religion has its extremists. And most wars throughout time have been fought on the basis of religion.
There are over 1.5 billion people in the world who are Muslim. That is over 20 percent of the global population, or one out of five people in this world.
Some think that only Arabs are Muslims, but approximately 62 percent of the world’s Muslims live in Asia, with more than 683 million adherents in Indonesia, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh alone. Estimates indicate that China has somewhere between 20 to 65 million Muslims, and there are approximately 7 million Muslims in the United States and about 1 million in New York City alone. This is not a fly-by-night religion. It is one based on a long, proud history. It is one that has had many controversies, but what religion doesn’t?
And the group that is planning the mosque says that it wants to promote peace and understanding. Shouldn’t we as society look to all groups to pursue these goals so that perhaps one day we won’t see different groups looking to settle their religious differences with the barrel of a gun or tank?
We cannot say that we are a country built upon the fundamentals of our constitution if we continue to decide which religions are good and bad. As with every religion or group of people, there are some good and some bad, but we cannot judge a whole people by the activities of some, especially a group of 19 evil men who were not concerned with who died from their attack, whether they were Black, White, Muslim, Christian or Jew. And if a religious group wants to put a mosque and cultural center in Lower Manhattan on land that they own, who are we to say no? We are better than that.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness—The Declaration of Independence
(Elinor Tatum is publisher and editor in chief of the New York Amsterdam News.)