News Item: A group of Muslims in New York City are looking to build a new community center, including a mosque, a few blocks from the site of the former World Trade Center. A small group of “conservative” US politicians have come forward to try to convince us that it would be wrong to build a place of worship so close to a place where this horrific event happened in 2001. President Obama has come forward as the voice of reason, to remind us that we can all choose to practice our religion when and where we choose to do so, even in New York City. These fringe Republicans are responding by stating that Obama is out of touch with Americans.

Comment: I’m not sure which Americans that Ms. Palin and Mr. Gingrich and others think that the president is out of touch with, but it certainly doesn’t seem out of touch to me that any religious group might want to build a facility in the most populous city in our country. On it’s face, it seems absurd that building a religious place of worship near the site of a disaster would be any problem at all. Certainly, the faith-based programs that would be happening at this community center would not only be of service to the community, it would have a healing effect in allowing the community to come together at this location.

I have heard of communities that might not want a church in a particular part of town due to traffic or zoning concerns. But I don’t ever remember hearing that they don’t want the church because a site of a disaster was nearby. In fact, in times of disaster and the aftermath of attacks or war, it is often representatives of religious organizations that are the first to arrive and to help. The arguments being made simply do not make any sense.

In an earlier incident in our history, in a terrorist bombing in Oklahoma City, I never once heard that we needed to do anything about the location of any nearby religious centers or places of worship. No one thought that the proximity of a church was of any concern to anyone regarding how close it is to the center of that explosion. Certainly, there is at least one place of worship in Downtown Oklahoma City.

The “conservatives” that have been decrying the new Muslim community center in New York are saying that it is inappropriate that a Muslim center be built, but have not said whether it would be appropriate to build a Christian community center or a Jewish community center in the same spot. I presume this is the case, as they have said as much in not so many words. Yet, they tell us that it would be wrong to call them religious bigots. I’m not entirely sure what else I would call them, if it is OK to build one brand of church but not another.

Perhaps they believe that, because many of the al-Qaida terrorists had been brought up as Muslims, that all Muslims must be bad. None of the Muslims that I know would do such a thing, and I know all of them to be upstanding members of our community. Even if the terrorists were Muslims, that is still not a reason to vilify the millions of Muslims around the world who are not terrorists. Certainly, the Republicans who are trying to eventually become our leaders are not so uninformed as to think that the Muslim religion, rather than a terrorist organization, attacked the World Trade Center. I have to conclude that they are either grossly uninformed, or that they are religious bigots. Neither one of these are particularly flattering to them.

Again, if we take previous incidents into account, Timothy McVeigh, who destroyed the Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995, killing 168 people and injuring 450 more, had been raised in a Christian household. In another example, Adolf Hitler, the killer of millions during World War II, sent Jews, members of Christian denominations different than his own, and others to the gas chambers to die, all in the name of Christianity. We recognize these figures as anomalies. We have not shunned all Christians because of the actions of these particularly criminal Christians. It makes no more sense to shun these Muslims because of the actions of a few others who have no connection to them.

As we look to our leaders to guide us, the wise words of Barak Obama have reminded us that we all have the right to practice our peaceful religions in any appropriate manner. It is a right protected in our constitution. Please tell me if you think differently, educate me on this issue. But I can find nothing other than blatant religious bigotry in those not allowing this New York project to go forward. This never should have been more than a local issue.

I only hope that this does not become an issue in our own community.

UPDATE: From information in an article today, it appears that the Muslim community in New York City might abandon their community center project. The bigots will see this as a victory. The religious will see it as an offer to the community to stop the tensions that will inevitably arise from building the project. It is truly unfortunate that, in this day and age, that we still have the intolerance that will not allow our neighbors to pray in peace. Will the detractors be praying in peace tonight?