Photo by Aimee GieseLet's make one thing perfectly clear up front: I'm no fan of Islam. Then again, I'm no fan of the Catholic church or fundamentalist Christianity either. I confess that Mormonism befuddles me, and I'm weirded out by Wicca.
But the First Amendment allows all of these religions and more to be practiced freely here in the United States. Meanwhile, the Fifth Amendment covers private property rights, among others.
Conservatives love to cite the Constitution when arguing a point, but in the case of the proposed Cordoba House community center in lower Manhattan, they've conveniently forgotten about both of these amendments.
First, I'd like to dispel some misinformation regarding this project. The site is not at ground zero, but a few blocks away -- an existing building already owned by the two groups spearheading the project. It's not set to open on September 11, 2011, but will take three to five years to complete. It's not just a mosque but an entire community center, including "a performing arts center, swimming pool, culinary school, child care facilities ... [and] it would provide 150 full-time jobs, 500 part-time jobs, and an investment of more than $100 million in infrastructure in the city's financial district."
The project sponsors voluntarily presented their plans to the Community Board of lower Manhattan on Wednesday, May 5; they did not have to do so. As board member Ro Sheffe noted, "They own the land, and their plans don't have any zoning changes." The board members present at the meeting voted unanimously to support the project.
The regularly scheduled full board meeting was held on Tuesday, May 25, at which the public voiced opinions both for and against, and a second vote was taken. The results were 29-1, with 10 abstentions. Again, this vote was merely whether to support the project; the sponsors own the building and do not need approval from the board to proceed.
As I said, I'm not a fan of Islam. I was also living and working in Manhattan on September 11, 2001, and was scheduled to fly out of Newark later that day. Furthermore, I worked at the Pentagon from 1995 to 1999. I certainly have strong personal feelings regarding the tragic events of that day.
Likewise, I realize many others have strong personal feelings leading them to oppose this project. But the fact remains that feelings don't nullify laws. Like it or not, the project sponsors are well within their Constitutional rights to construct the Cordoba House community center.
(Editor's Note: For another point of view, read An Islamic Mosque at Ground Zero ... Seriously?)