Note: This article was written in July 2010
Proposed construction of a Muslim mosque near Ground Zero has many Americans up in arms. Democrats, Republicans, and Independents have invoked ideals of ‘fairness’, ‘freedom’, and ‘first amendment rights’ to both support and oppose the project. One New York Politician stated that he would seek to use ‘eminent domain’ to halt any plans to construct a mosque.
The owners of the land should be free to build whatever they please.
Any injunction placed on the construction of the mosque would be a departure from the spirit of the Bill of Rights, especially the First Amendment. Many Americans have contended that the mosque would be ‘insensitive’ and an affront to the memories of the people affected by the 9/11 tragedy. Therefore, the Muslim mosque should not be built anywhere near Ground Zero.
That is a reasonable argument, yet a decidedly hypocritical one.
If we truly believe in the society of freedom of expression, than we cannot (and should not) stop the owners of the land from using their land as they see fit. They should be able to place a massive billboard on their land stating ‘we support Bin Laden’ if they wanted to (although it would be in extremely poor taste). Freedom of expression grants Americans the right to voice their opinion or engage in (legal) activities that may not be popular in society; ‘liberty’ is one of the bedrock principles upon which our nation was founded.
Save for extreme cases were actual harm may be a real and present danger, Americans are free to conduct themselves as they please. People can hoot and holler as much as they want in opposition of the mosque, as they have a right to do. If they can convince the owners of the land to cease all plans to erect a mosque through reasoned discourse or emotional appeal that is perfectly acceptable. However, the instant anyone (government, civilian, or business) attempts to coerce the land owners to acquiesce, they should be rebuked immediately.
If anyone wants to turn the site into a memorial or use it for another purpose, then they must purchase the land from its current owners. Then, and only then, will they have the right to dictate how the land will be used.
The Bill of Rights was meant for instances such as this one—-to protect the interests of the minority from the will of the majority. Differences in opinion don’t give an individual the right to forbid another group or individual from engaging in an activity. Any legal or economic policies levied against the mosque constructors as a result of public outrage sets a very dangerous precedent.
Perhaps even more troubling is the underlying sentiment present in much of the opposition to the mosque. Many people seem to believe that ‘Muslim’ and ‘terrorist’ are one and the like.
This conclusion might be infinitely worse than the current assault on the first amendment rights of the site owners.
Even if the terrorists responsible for 9/11 were Muslims that does not mean that all Muslims are terrorists or terrorist sympathizers. The media publicizes terrorists acts throughout the world, and a number of these acts may be perpetrated by Islamic extremists, so many (erroneously) conclude that Islam and terrorism are one and the same. The vast majority of Muslims throughout the world are respectful, law-abiding citizens.
Painting all Muslims with such a broad brush stroke is unbecoming of reasonable, down-to-earth Americans.