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Point: Build the Mosque

Point: Build the Mosque

Government should not deny citizens the right to build a house of worship on private property based on their particular religion.


New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg delivered the following speech on August 3, 2010 at Governors Island, off the tip of Lower Manhattan.

We've come here to Governors Island to stand where the earliest settlers first set foot in New Amsterdam, and where the seeds of religious tolerance were first planted. We come here to see the inspiring symbol of liberty that more than 250 years later would greet millions of immigrants in this harbor. And we come here to state as strongly as ever, this is the freest city in the world. That's what makes New York special and different and strong.

Our doors are open to everyone. Everyone with a dream and a willingness to work hard and play by the rules. New York City was built by immigrants, and it's sustained by immigrants -- by people from more than 100 different countries speaking more than 200 different languages and professing every faith. And whether your parents were born here or you came here yesterday, you are a New Yorker.

We may not always agree with every one of our neighbors. That's life. And it's part of living in such a diverse and dense city. But we also recognize that part of being a New Yorker is living with your neighbors in mutual respect and tolerance. It was exactly that spirit of openness and acceptance that was attacked on 9/11, 2001.

Of all our precious freedoms, the most important may be the freedom to worship as we wish.

On that day, 3,000 people were killed because some murderous fanatics didn't want us to enjoy the freedoms to profess our own faiths, to speak our own minds, to follow our own dreams, and to live our own lives. Of all our precious freedoms, the most important may be the freedom to worship as we wish. And it is a freedom that even here -- in a city that is rooted in Dutch tolerance -- was hard-won over many years.

In the mid-1650s, the small Jewish community living in lower Manhattan petitioned Dutch governor Peter Stuyvesant for the right to build a synagogue, and they were turned down. In 1657, when Stuyvesant also prohibited Quakers from holding meetings, a group of non-Quakers in Queens signed the Flushing Remonstrance, a petition in defense of the right of Quakers and others to freely practice their religion. It was perhaps the first formal political petition for religious freedom in the American colonies, and the organizer was thrown in jail and then banished from New Amsterdam.

In the 1700s, even as religious freedom took hold in America, Catholics in New York were effectively prohibited from practicing their religion, and priests could be arrested. Largely as a result, the first Catholic parish in New York City was not established until the 1780s, St. Peter's on Barclay Street, which still stands just one block north of the World Trade Center site, and one block south of the proposed mosque and community center.

This morning, the city's Landmark Preservation Commission unanimously voted to extend -- not to extend -- landmark status to the building on Park Place where the mosque and community center are planned. The decision was based solely on the fact that there was little architectural significance to the building. But with or without landmark designation, there is nothing in the law that would prevent the owners from opening a mosque within the existing building.

The simple fact is, this building is private property, and the owners have a right to use the building as a house of worship, and the government has no right whatsoever to deny that right. And if it were tried, the courts would almost certainly strike it down as a violation of the U.S. Constitution.

Whatever you may think of the proposed mosque and community center, lost in the heat of the debate has been a basic question: Should government attempt to deny private citizens the right to build a house of worship on private property based on their particular religion? That may happen in other countries, but we should never allow it to happen here.

This nation was founded on the principle that the government must never choose between religions or favor one over another. The World Trade Center site will forever hold a special place in our city, in our hearts. But we would be untrue to the best part of ourselves and who we are as New Yorkers and Americans if we said no to a mosque in lower Manhattan.

Let us not forget that Muslims were among those murdered on 9/11, and that our Muslim neighbors grieved with us as New Yorkers and as Americans. We would betray our values and play into our enemies' hands if we were to treat Muslims differently than anyone else. In fact, to cave to popular sentiment would be to hand a victory to the terrorists, and we should not stand for that.

We would betray our values and play into our enemies' hands if we were to treat Muslims differently than anyone else.

For that reason, I believe that this is an important test of the separation of church and state as we may see in our lifetimes, as important a test. And it is critically important that we get it right.

On Sept. 11, 2001, thousands of first responders heroically rushed to the scene and saved tens of thousands of lives. More than 400 of those first responders did not make it out alive. In rushing into those burning buildings, not one of them asked, 'What God do you pray to?' 'What beliefs do you hold?'

The attack was an act of war, and our first responders defended not only our city, but our country and our constitution. We do not honor their lives by denying the very constitutional rights they died protecting. We honor their lives by defending those rights and the freedoms that the terrorists attacked.

Of course, it is fair to ask the organizers of the mosque to show some special sensitivity to the situation, and in fact their plan envisions reaching beyond their walls and building an interfaith community. But doing so, it is my hope that the mosque will help to bring our city even closer together, and help repudiate the false and repugnant idea that the attacks of 9/11 were in any ways consistent with Islam.

Muslims are as much a part of our city and our country as the people of any faith. And they are as welcome to worship in lower Manhattan as any other group. In fact, they have been worshipping at the site for better, the better part of a year, as is their right. The local community board in lower Manhattan voted overwhelmingly to support the proposal. And if it moves forward, I expect the community center and mosque will add to the life and vitality of the neighborhood and the entire city.

Political controversies come and go, but our values and our traditions endure, and there is no neighborhood in this city that is off-limits to God's love and mercy, as the religious leaders here with us can attest.

Related Article: Do Not Build the Mosque

August 17, 2010

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Visitor Comments: 127

(126) Anonymous, October 3, 2010 1:18 AM

the moslem religion is not what it used to be

the moslem religion is one which is based upon evil plans for not moslems. in all moslem countreis other religions are not accorded the proper freedom. they do not look upon non moslems as humans but as sub humans. their type of activity tell you what they are. of course there are a few exceptions but they are few and far between. when a mosque is built it is for the prupose of proclaming vicdory. do you know that when the twin towers were burning down, the arabs in the middle east were throwing candy to celelbrate? they did not express remorse or sorrow or sympathy but they did express their joy at the great victory against the USA the enemy of Islam. they murder and murder . when they exchange prisoners, they receive 500 live arabs in exchange for 2 dead non arabs. is this justice? is thie morality? they clearly state their purpose - to islamise the world. they want the non moslem world to adapt their laws shariya. evern the archbishop of canterbury said they are right. He must be crazy. the church should but him under a ban and replace him. the pope wore a kaffiya when he came to arab sites. he should be dismissed for wearing non papal robes. you see, the non moslem world is being duped into becoming pro moslem. the world is losing its sense of normalcy. moslems do not react to love with love but with hate. they lynch innocent people even amongst their own. they murder their own family members. they live on the sword. they claim that the koran says things which it doesn't say. they lie and lie and lie all the time. they put up a man who is a holocaust denier as a moderate arab. they want leaders to shake hands with a man who both financed and orchestrated the murder of innocent olympic participants. they say one thing to the world and mean the opposite. they are basically terrorists. they want their chldren to grow up to murder innocent people. this is the truth. let them build a mosque

(125) BK, September 23, 2010 11:22 PM

Get over it

I have served along many American Muslims over the years in the military, at not once have I ever believed they were any less worthy of locating their religious institutions where ever they want in this country. I don't fight for this nation so that Muslims can be relegated to some ghetto or marginal class the way our folks were in the Pale or during WWII. Regardless of fringe or even mainstream ideologies we may find distasteful about Islam, any willingness to legislate or deny them will eventually come down on Jews. Tell me I'm wrong and I'll tell you you're naive. Bottom line - American Muslims deserve to do what they will free of government interference.

(124) Betsy, September 2, 2010 5:01 PM

You want to know what speech?

Bloomberg spoke of this on the Daily Show on Aug. 26. Give us the name of that so-called soldier and his Commanding Officer whom Bloomberg was all in agreement with using that statement from this unknown Soldier. Bloomberg was trying to make a statement of his own beliefs using this unknown so-called soldier to debate that it is not an act against our military efforts to build this Community Center. Did Bloomberg serve in the battle-lines or support our troops during these years, no it's obvious he is careless about their efforts, likewise Obama who stated in his speech last Tuesday, he did not support this war when the decision to go into it. Neither Bloomberg or Obama doesn't care what our military has gone through on behalf of keeping America safe from terrorist attacks, past or possible future ones.

(123) Betsy, September 2, 2010 4:09 PM

Bloomberg who thinks the reason why we sent combat troops to Iraq, Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan was for the purpose as the likes of building this Islam Community Center. Where does he get off in thinking such an absurd thing like that. Our first mission was to capture Saddam Hussein who was a tyrant leader with his brutal treatment to his country. Furthermore was behind 9/11. Our combat of offense turned into defense to raise their military up to defend their own people from tyrant leaders. So they themselves could put a stop to them, protecting themselves and other countries like the U.S.A. They need their own people to make a difference to improve their country and religion. Bloomberg thinks building this Community Center is why we went to war. No! No! No! That is not why we sent combat troops overseas. It was for us to catch and prosecute those behind bombing NY and those who are planning more attacks. Otherwise what religion they live by in their countries is of no concern to us, until it affects us on our on soil as such: Islam internal motto is "Winning by Building; Building by Winning."

(122) Speedy, August 26, 2010 9:39 PM

Whose walkin the walk or just talkin the talk

I have met religious Muslims, who are religious and their religion is Muslim. I have met backslider Muslims who no longer practice their religion. I have met Arabs that are not religious at all. It's whether they have an evil eye or a good eye is the determining factor if they are evil or good. The good eye Muslims are asking the religious leader of the Mosque to build elsewhere.

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