David Freddoso: On separating mosque and state in lower Manhattan

Carl Paladino, a Republican candidate in next week's primary election for governor of New York, styles himself as a conservative “Tea Party” candidate. Here's what he says about the proposed Park 51 Islamic Center in Lower Manhattan:

“As governor, I will use the power of eminent domain to stop the mosque, and use the site as a war memorial instead of a monument to those who attacked our country.”

For a Tea Party movement whose adherents rail against bureaucracy and socialism, decry the legalized plunder of the corporate welfare state, and cite Hayek and Bastiat on their makeshift protest signs, Paladino's message seems like a bandwagon headed in the wrong direction, and fast.

The Supreme Court's 2005 Kelo decision rightly outraged conservatives because it encouraged municipal abuse of eminent domain at the expense of property owners' constitutional rights.

Paladino's suggestion goes far beyond the respectable position — apparently shared by President Obama and many conservatives — that the mosque under consideration is unwise and objectionable, but should not be blocked.

Paladino's attack on one particular property owner, basically because of his religion, looks like an abuse of eminent domain waiting to happen.

The temptation to pile on Muslims and deprive them of rights appears to be overwhelming for some amid the debate about the area around the former World Trade Center. The New Republic's Marty Peretz recently wrote this of the followers of the Prophet:

“I wonder whether I need honor these people and pretend that they are worthy of the privileges of the First Amendment which I have in my gut the sense that they will abuse.”

Now compare the debate over the “Ground Zero Mosque” with that surrounding the Dove World Outreach Center, whose pastor, Terry Jones, has announced a day of Koran-burning to celebrate Sept. 11.

Although we might object to this stupidity, we also recognize it as a constitutionally protected activity. So the question Americans must ask now is whether we are going to elevate Dove's tasteless provocation above the rights of millions of peaceable, law-abiding Muslims who did not attack America but proudly call themselves Americans. Should they enjoy the same property rights and freedom of religion as the rest of us?

American freedom of religion arose as a reaction to centuries of secular powers that cynically used religion to increase their own power and justify unholy wars and confiscations of wealth. We reject this paradigm and the circumstances under which it arose. Our Constitution unequivocally prefers religious fanaticism to its alternative — state-enforced orthodoxy against religious fanatics.

There was a time when a fanatic like Pastor Jones would have been brought before the Inquisition and burned at the stake. We consider it progress that we no longer do such things. We even celebrate his freedom to parade his ignorance.

But is it accurate to say that he is less dangerous or more worthy of basic constitutional protections than any individual Muslim who would worship at the Park 51 mosque? Do we want to make Lower Manhattan into a kind of “Islam-Free Zone” where only other religions can be practiced, out of concern for the sensitivity of others?

There is no sugar-coating the reality that the terrorists who struck us on 9/11 were inspired by the Prophet Muhammad and the religion he founded. But we all understand, I hope, that they did not represent the entire Muslim world.

Assuming that the backers of this mosque cannot be linked directly to terrorists and arrested, we're faced with a simple choice. We can either follow the lead of Ferdinand and Isabel by expelling every Muslim from America, or we can let them “build the danged mosque” and be done with it.

David Freddoso is The Examiner's online opinion editor.

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