Guest editorial…Does the U.S. have religious freedom?

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by Shannon Williams

Mosque

Does this not seem like the absolute worst possible time for anyone to be president of the United States? I mean, wow. First there was the seemingly never-ending health care debate, then there was the whole race thing, the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and now there’s so much hoopla over recent comments President Barack Obama made regarding the possibility of a mosque and community center to be built near Ground Zero in New York City.

Can Obama say anything without verbal warfare erupting?

Should he keep his mouth shut regarding controversial issues?

Is Obama to be commended for saying something that is accurate, but not popular?

The answers: hardly, no, and yes.

No matter what Obama says, there will be someone who has an issue with his perspective on one thing or another—whether it’s an ultra-conservative on Fox News, a liberal independent who straddles the fence, or someone who writes an editorial for a weekly newspaper. The important thing is for Obama to be engaged with the current affairs of this nation, despite the level of controversy. The need for Obama to be fair and accurate while expressing his views is paramount.

However, when topics that evoke emotions arise, things get a bit fuzzy. Hence, the mosque controversy.

When Obama said that the United States believes in religious freedoms, the backlash he received would make one think he ordered all women and children be killed. Obama simply said that everyone in America has the right to believe in whatever religion they deem appropriate. There are some religions that I think are absolutely preposterous, but that doesn’t mean that’s how the person who exercises that religion feels. How an individual feels is the business of that particular person and that’s it. When we begin restricting people because of their beliefs is when we become more like the Taliban and less like the United States.

As controversial as this may sound, Muslims have a right to build a mosque wherever they like. Constructing a massive, six-story building near Ground Zero is not the best idea in the world and it would be a PR nightmare, but the right to do so is there.

In this instance, it would be wise for the supporters and opponents of the mosque building to be considerate of the other side’s point of view. Just like with any other relationship we find ourselves in, removing ourselves from the equation and stepping into the shoes of the other person will help us to be more considerate and compassionate people.

Perhaps the Muslims who are involved in the initial stages of this venture should reflect on the sensitive nature associated with the site. Thousands of lives were lost and people are understandably emotional about the tragedy. Will putting a mosque in the middle of what some people call sacred ground really enhance the perception that people have of Muslims? By the same token, how fair is it to adamantly deny Muslims a right that other faiths have? Does it send the message that America has a problem with Islam as a whole, rather than Islamic terrorists?

If we deny Muslims the right to freedom of worship, we are telling them that in this country, they are second class citizens. Being treated as second class citizens is something that should be all-too familiar with Blacks in the United States. Instead of being slighted because of our religious beliefs, we were enslaved because of the color of our skin. For people who lived during those highly tumultuous times, I’m sure that wasn’t a good feeling. To discriminate against someone because of their religious beliefs isn’t good, either.

Maybe the immediate solution to this mosque debate is to table the construction of the center until a later date. For a tragedy as horrendous as 9/11, nine years is too soon for people to “move on.” We’re too sensitive and emotionally tied to the tragedy. Letting more time pass while also extending Muslims the same freedoms as other religions seems to be the way to go. If nothing else, it’s a reasonable compromise.

(You can e-mail comments to Shannon Williams at Shannon­w@indyrecorder.com.)

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