Freedom of Religion Means Freedom for All

I didn’t want to write anything about this because it seemed, well, too obvious. But for a depressing number of people in this country, including folks who really should know better, apparently it isn’t.

So here goes: If you don’t support religious freedom for everyone, you don’t support it.

Yes. As I said, it’s obvious. Opposing religious freedom for one, takes it away from all of us.

Yet, every time somebody lately protests the building of a new mosque—either in New York City or in other cities across the country—they’re always careful to cloak their opposition with earnest assurances that they’re not opposed to religious freedom.

But there is only one response to such an assertion: Yes…you…are. (And I’m talking to you, Anti-Defamation League). In a statement opposing New York City’s approval of the building of an Islamic center two blocks from the fallen World Trade Center, the ADL wrote:

We categorically reject appeals to bigotry on the basis of religion, and condemn those whose opposition to this proposed Islamic Center is a manifestation of such bigotry.

However, there are understandably strong passions and keen sensitivities surrounding the World Trade Center site. We are ever mindful of the tragedy which befell our nation there, the pain we all still feel—and especially the anguish of the families and friends of those who were killed on September 11, 2001.

The controversy which has emerged regarding the building of an Islamic Center at this location is counterproductive to the healing process. Therefore, under these unique circumstances, we believe the City of New York would be better served if an alternative location could be found.

Hey ADL, may I remind you of your mission statement? “ADL fights anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry, defends democratic ideals and protects civil rights for all.”

Civil rights for all. Not just for some. Not just for people we like. All.

The ADL statement also makes some vague reference to certain questions about the center’s financial ties, which it fails to back up with any actual facts—just as other critics of the center have failed to do. In response to calls for an investigation of the center’s financial ties, New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo dismissed the critics, saying no evidence exists of criminal activity. Then he unloaded with a beautiful and concise explanation of why these appeals are so threatening not only to the rights of Muslims, but to all of us.

“If there is a criminal case, then there is a criminal case,” the AG said. “But, if this is: I don’t like this religion, and I don’t like this religion on this block. Or: I don’t like this religion in this city. Then I agree with Mayor Bloomberg. Then I agree with the community board that approved the mosque.”

“What are we about, if not religious freedom? What is the country about if not religious freedom? What is this state about if not religious freedom? Well, religious freedom except I don’t like this religion. But then, there might be another government, and they won’t like Catholicism, or they won’t like Judaism, or they won’t like Christianity, then what?”

(What makes this even more sad is that people seem to have forgotten that Muslims lost their lives in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, victims along with the Christians, Jews, non-believers and the people of many other faiths who died that day as well.) Whether it wanted to or not, the ADL has now joined forces with folks like Newt Gingrich and what appears to be a growing movement to oppose mosques across the country. The ADL’s remarks are little different from Tennessee’s Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, who, while pledging to be a staunch supporter of religious freedom and the First Amendment, turns around and says, “You could even argue whether being a Muslim is actually a religion or is it a nationality, way of life or cult, whatever you want to call it.” A link to the referenced remarks, which begin at about 3:10, are here.

A recent protest over plans to build an Islamic center in Temecula, California revealed an interesting irony. Nine years ago, the city dealt with similar opposition to plans to build another house of worship. Then, people were protesting the Church of Latter Day Saints.

You can’t have it both ways. When one’s freedom to practice one’s faith gets quashed by the tyranny of the majority or by a vocal minority, we are all vulnerable to the same oppression. And then, freedom to worship as George Washington wrote, “according to the dictates of his own conscious” becomes a myth, no different than the one about him cutting down the cherry tree.

I wonder why this concept is so difficult for people to grasp. Readers, any thoughts?

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