Thursday, May 31, 2012

Religious Right Wrongs All Americans

Defaced sight at the proposed mosque site.
In keeping with the Christian Right’s continuing attacks on other Americans’ religious freedom, religious activists have convinced a judge in Tennessee to order work stopped on a local mosque on the dubious grounds that “officials didn't give the public adequate notice before the meeting where it was approved.”

Really?  No one knew?  The meeting was jammed by accident?  People happened to wander in when they saw the free cookies and punch?

State law merely requires that local governments provide "adequate public notice" for meetings.  The word “adequate” is not defined in the statute, and the meeting was announced, as usual, by advertisement in a local newspaper and on the paper’s website – exactly what was done for all such public meetings.

County attorney Josh McCreary told the court that the mosque approval “was a routine matter at the time.”  He added that the intense opposition arose only after the committee correctly and through normal legal processes approved construction of a religious building to serve the growing number of Muslims in the region.

"In this instance, everything they are relying on to prove this is a matter of pervasive public importance came after the lawsuit was filed," he testified.

Attorney Gadeir Abbas (left) with Council on American-Islamic Relations also saw right through that farce.  "The judge's ruling is apparently based on a fictitious `heightened standard for public notice when Muslims are involved,’" he said in a public statement.

This would be a minor brouhaha if wasn’t part of an ongoing assault of the religious rights of all Americans, regardless of their beliefs.  Muslims have been a particular target, including the attempt to block a mosque from being erected near the site of the World Trade Center.  The abuse was especially acute in Tennessee where hearings on the proposed Murfreesboro mosque were used as a pretext to attack Muslims.

While opponents duplicitously insist their objection to the mosque did not hinge on religion, their attorneys badgered witnesses speaking on behalf of the mosque with questions about the legitimacy of Islam – gee, it’s only the second largest religion in the world and growing rapidly.  They also were asked if the mosque was part of a conspiracy to replace the Constitution with Islamic law.  The irony of Christian opponents trying to destroy the First Amendment in that Constitution apparently escaped them.

One resident testified in court that Islam supports “beheadings, forced conversion and pedophilia.”  No, it doesn’t, but that does sound like menu offerings – minus beheading – served up by a prominent Christian institution.

To make sure no possible recourse was overlooked, there was also the requisite bomb threat against the mosque site, offered up no doubt by a peace-loving Christian inspired by nonreligious ideals.

The religious hatred immediately brings to mind the intense persecution of multiple groups in Germany.  Pastor Friedrich Gustav Emil Martin Niemöller put it into words:

First they came for the Communists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew.
Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak out for me.

There are debates over the words and the actual author, but not the concept.  The warning appears on the wall of the United States Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.  Versions also have been reproduced in holocaust museums in Virginia, Florida and Israel.

In this case, there are plenty of non-fanatical religious conservatives around to object, even in Tennessee.  For example, a local march of 400 people against the mosque was matched by the same number in favor.

Besides, there is absolutely no reason not to allow construction of a religious building by a legitimate religion.

1)      It’s legal.  It is proposed for an area zoned for such a structure and was approved by all requisite committees.

2)      It falls under constitutional guidelines.  The Puritans who founded Massachusetts came here for religious freedom.  That basic concept is enshrined in the First Amendment to the Constitution.  It is the cornerstone of our country and the one thing that separates us from other lands.

3)      Denying it creates problems.  Refusing to allow a mosque simply drives a wedge between Muslims and American society.  Ironically, that’s exactly what the terrorists are trying to do: they believe Islam is the superior belief and wanted to rid it of Western influence.  That puts opponents of the mosque on the side of the terrorists. 

4)      An attack against one religion is an attack against all.  Who said that a successful Christian Right won’t go after some other religion's construction plans next?

Our country has always been inclusive: there’s room for everyone.   The Statue of Liberty proclaims that in the immortal words of Emma Lazarus (no relation):

"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Isolating one element of society based totally on their religion debases all Americans.  This is not a Christian nation.  It is a religion-free nation, deliberately and wisely created that way to avoid this kind of sectarian fighting.

The Christian Right may not believe it, but that’s why there are laws to protect us from them.  It may take the Federal Government in this case to enforce them on behalf of all Americans.

Long-time religious historian Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history.  He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida.  You can reach him at  He is the author of the famed Unauthorized Biography of Nostradamus; The Last Testament of Simon Peter; The Gospel Truth: Where Did the Gospel Writers Get Their Information; Noel: The Lore and Tradition of Christmas Carols; and Dummies Guide to Comparative Religion.  His books are available on, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers.  He can also be followed on Twitter.

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