The debate swirling around the proposed mosque and Muslim community center in lower Manhattan near the World Trade Center site has, for many, tapped into strong emotions of a national trauma that is still raw. But in the churning political and constitutional arguments, one question has not been adequately addressed: what makes a mosque near ground zero offensive?
Nearly everyone in this debate affirms the constitutional right for the mosque’s construction. Indeed, that right is a cherished founding principle. As Thomas Jefferson said, “The constitutional freedom of religion [is] the most inalienable and sacred of all human rights.” It is no accident that the right to worship in accordance with one’s own conscience is enshrined in the First Amendment.
But, many mosque opponents argue, just because it can be built does not mean it should be. They say it would be disrespectful to the memories of those who died on 9/11 to build a Muslim facility near the World Trade Center site. I appreciate the depth of emotions at play, but respectfully suggest that the presence of a mosque is only inappropriate near ground zero if we unfairly associate Muslim Americans with the atrocities of the foreign al-Qaidaterrorists who attacked our nation.
Such an association is a profound error. Muslim Americans are our fellow citizens, not our enemies. Muslim Americans were among the victims who died at the World Trade Center in the 9/11 attacks. Muslim American first responders risked their lives to save their fellow citizens that day. Many of our Muslim neighbors, including thousands of Oregon citizens, serve our country in war zones abroad and our communities at home with dedication and distinction.