No one is advocating that mosques should not be built in New York City. There are many just as there are churches, synagogues and other places of worship. What we’re saying, on behalf of our client – a NYC firefighter and first responder who lost 100 friends in the 9-11 attacks – is that this particular Ground Zero site is not appropriate for this mosque.
Tim Brown, our client, and millions of Americans believe this site is sacred, hallowed ground. The landing gear of one of the hijacked planes crashed through the building. This building should be landmarked, a move rejected by a NYC commission panel. That’s why we have sued the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission charging that the city violated its own policies and procedures in rejecting landmark status and exhibited “an arbitrary and capricious abuse of discretion and contrary to decades of administrative precedent.”
Barry, I know you want to turn this into an issue about religious discrimination, but that is simply not the case. In fact, our position is consistent with our defense of America’s sacrosanct First Amendment ideals.
As a legal matter, we are asking that government, indeed, apply the law faithfully and without regard to religion. That principle serves as the basis for our suit against the commission, which, we believe, improperly considered the proposed religious use of the property in deciding not to grant the property landmark status.
In 2007, the same Landmarks Preservation Commission unanimously voted to grant landmark status to a nearly identical building, 23-25 Park Place, which is just one block away from the proposed mosque. Despite the fact that 45-47 Park Place is more historically significant – pieces of one of the hijacked planes crashed through the roof on Sept. 11 – the commission unanimously denied landmark status. The blatant double standard can be explained by the politically correct considerations surrounding the proposed religious use. That is unacceptable and a flagrant betrayal of the very religious agnosticism on the part of government that Mayor Bloomberg claims to embrace.
Second, this issue, as the mayor stated, is as much about private rights as it is the role of government. Landmarked or not, the owners of 45-47 Park Place have a right to practice Islam in a mosque at that location if they so choose. The U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to do and say many things that are offensive – indeed, that is the bedrock of our constitutional system – but well-intentioned people, nonetheless, often choose not to do or say such things out of a moral concern for others.
As the Anti-Defamation League eloquently wrote in its statement opposing the project, “ultimately this is not a question of rights, but a question of what is right.”
Increasingly, Muslim groups and individuals are going on record saying that building the mosque at this site is like “rubbing salt in the wound.”
And, 61% of New York State residents say the mosque should not be built there citing concerns about sensitivity for those affected by the attacks.
Our legal challenge is unfolding as new revelations come to light about the project and the people behind it.
It has now been revealed that the developer does not own, but rather leases from Con Edison, a public utility, one of the two parcels needed for the mosque project. This fact creates a whole host of new legal questions and that will require the involvement of other public agencies, such as the Public Service Commission of New York State. This revelation also raises important questions about whether those behind the project misled the public and New York officials in order to get approval.
And, now we also discover that the U.S. State Department is sending Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, who is behind the Ground Zero mosque, on a taxpayer-funded trip to the Muslim world to promote what the government calls fostering a “greater understanding” of Islam. The move raises additional concerns about whether taxpayers may be helping him with the project’s $100 million fund-raising goal.
The State Department calls Iman Rauf a “distinguished Muslim cleric.” Guess it depends on your definition of “distinguished.” Imam Rauf has, on at least one occasion, refused to declare Hamas a terrorist organization and in the days following the tragic attacks of September 11th said the United States was “an accessory” to the crimes of 9-11.
Barry, there are a lot of questions – not about our commitment to protecting First Amendment rights – questions about the project and the people behind it.
Our client is one of those private citizens who believes this project is an insult to the Sept. 11th victims’ memory and their families. His right to express that view – to fight this development politically and by ensuring that administrative agencies follow their own precedents and the rule of law, and to speak with the chorus of others who find the Cordoba House mosque at Ground Zero inappropriate – represents the essence of a free democracy.
That right is not in tension with the First Amendment; it is the First Amendment.
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