The Proposed Mosque Site: Park Place, New York
President Barack Obama
New York Governor David Paterson
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg
Proposed Project Director Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf
"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 to the Constitution.
By Yussuf J. Simmonds
Sentinel Managing Editor
Not only is Barack Obama the President of the United States, he was also a professor of Constitutional Law at the University of Chicago. So when he addressed a gathering of Muslims on their rights to build a mosque in downtown Manhattan--not too far from Ground Zero--he was speaking with constitutional authority and was standing on solid constitutional footing as President and a former professor of Constitutional Law.
The First Amendment of the Constitution addresses the rights of freedom of religion--prohibiting Congress from establishing a religion and protecting the right to free exercise of religion--that transcends the noise that the naysayers are making in trying to thwart the rights of a segment of Americans because they do not agree with them.
In stating his position clearly at a traditional White House iftar dinner--breaking the day of fasting in Ramadan--President Obama said, "Let me be clear, as a citizen, and as president, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country. That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances." In clear and concise terms, he continued, "This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakeable." He never once stuttered or hesitated, displaying a firm commitment and strong knowledge that he was fundamentally doing the right thing.
Those words, notwithstanding that they were made before a predominantly Muslim gathering, touched off a firestorm of detractors and supporters from both sides of the aisles. And even though the President is neither supporting nor defending the building of the mosque, but instead is supporting religious freedom, as guaranteed by the Constitution, many have attacked him ferociously for defending the Constitution, his sworn duty. The President's remarks drew praise from Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City who previously supported the rights of the Muslims to build the Islamic Center.
Though the legality and the constitutionality are not in question, critics are voicing opposition on sensitivity and moral grounds: It may be legally right but morally wrong or they may have the right to do it (build the mosque), but it may not be the wise thing to do. To many right-wing Republicans, President Obama can do no "right." They make a big brouhaha about everything the President does beyond rational thought, reason and constructive criticism. And that is what has been giving rise to the "birthers" and the tea-party movement, a cover for racist activities.
The Governor of New York, David Paterson, the Mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg and the Congressman of Lower Manhattan (NY-8) all support the President in upholding the freedom of religion article of the Constitution.
Even though Governor Paterson supports the project, he offered a compromise saying, "If the sponsors were looking for property anywhere at a distance that would be such that it would accommodate a better feeling among the people who are frustrated, I would look into trying to provide them with the state property they would need," he said recognizing the sensitivity of the situation.
Mayor Bloomberg compared President Obama's speech to a letter President George Washington wrote in support of a Jewish congregation in Newport, Rhode Island. "President Obama's words tonight evoked President Washington's own august reminder that 'all possess alike liberty,'" he stated, "I applaud President Obama's clarion defense of the freedom of religion."
Congressman Jerrold Nadler, who represents Lower Manhattan and Ground Zero applauded the President's remarks saying, "As the member of Congress who represents Lower Manhattan and Ground Zero, I commend President Obama's statement on the Cordoba House (the site of the proposed mosque) and his support of our First Amendment rights of freedom of religion and separation of church and state. Government has no business deciding whether there should or should not be a Muslim house of worship near Ground Zero."
The site of a planned mosque is about two blocks from the World Trade Center. New York's Landmarks Preservation Commission met early August to discuss the landmark status of the site on Park Place. The Mayor gave an impassioned defense of the rights of the Islamic Center and Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the leader of the project after the Landmarks Preservation Commission voted unanimously not to designate the existing structure a landmark clearing the way to tear it down and thereby making way for the possible new construction of the mosque.