Either Muslims have the right to practice their religion or they do not. Raising questions about the “appropriateness” of the project or its “wisdom” are indirect ways to infringe on the freedom of religion. Is the First Amendment sacrosanct or is it subject to a popularity contest? Our founding fathers anticipated this conundrum and laid out clear markers that we should use to guide our views.
George Washington, in a letter to the Jews of Rhode Island, affirmed the essential nature of America, “a Government which to bigotry gives no sanction, to persecution no assistance — but generously affording to All liberty of conscience, and immunities of citizenship.” But today we have government officials openly giving sanction to bigotry.
In 1784, George Washington, seeking to hire craftsman for Mount Vernon, said, “If they are good workmen, they may be of Assia [sic], Africa, or Europe. They may be Mahometans [Muslims], Jews, or Christian of any Sect — or they may be Atheists.” Thus the foundation of America was based on meritocracy. On merits, the Park51 project has cleared all hurdles. No other consideration should stop the project from moving forward.
Ben Franklin wrote in his autobiography, “[S]o that even if the Mufti [Imam] of Constantinople were to send a missionary to preach Mohammedanism to us, he would find a pulpit at his service.” Whereas Franklin was welcoming of foreign imams, today an insidious propaganda has opened up against a stalwart American imam.
Thomas Jefferson, who owned and read a copy of the Quran, wrote in 1816, “The most sacred of the duties of a government [is] to do equal and impartial justice to all its citizens.” Today government officials are dictating where private citizens should erect their houses of worship.
In 1797 the U.S. Senate approved the Treaty with Tripoli, noting, “As the Government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Musselmen [Muslims].” Today President Obama, who emphasized this point in his Cairo speech and again reiterated it during the iftar dinner at the White House, is being mercilessly attacked for standing with America’s founding values.
John Locke, whose writings influenced our founding fathers, wrote, “Nay, if we may openly speak the truth, and as becomes one man to another, neither Pagan nor Mahometan [Muslim], nor Jew, ought to be excluded from the civil rights of the commonwealth because of his religion. The Gospel commands no such thing.” Is it not ironic that one of the biggest opposition to the Park51 project is coming from religiously conservative groups?
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