Fear shouldn’t jeopardize our freedoms

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 15, 2010

Sometimes there is a fine line between patriotism and intolerance, a blurring of ideologies that goes against the foundation on which our nation was built.

Perhaps this has never been more apparent than the ongoing debate over whether or not an Islamic mosque should be allowed to be built a few blocks from Ground Zero, the site in New York City where the World Trade Center towers fell after the 9/11 terrorist attack.

Private developers are pushing this plan that justifiably hits a nerve with many Americans, despite the fact organizers are adamant that their goal in this is about promoting understanding and tolerance between the diverse religions of the world.

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Is it insensitive of them to want to build a mosque so close to the site of an attack by Islamic terrorists? Maybe. Should the government impede this private development as long as all the laws and zoning requirements are met? Absolutely not.

Grief and loss shouldn’t cloud our view of the Constitution.

Sadly, more than two thirds of Americans seem to be confused about freedom of religion protected in this bedrock of our democracy.

Many want the state of New York to step in and stop this. Others think it is the federal government’s role to stop these “terrorists (who) worship their monkey god,” according to Tea Party spokesman Mark Williams.

This closed-minded view of different religions is exactly what drove our forefathers to pack up their families and sail across the Atlantic.

Williams and those like him miss the big picture and are wrong on so many levels.

First, all Muslims aren’t to blame for 9/11. Terrorists who happened to be Muslim are to blame.

But that would be like blaming all Christians for the actions of offshoot cults like those led by David Koresh and Jim Jones. Ridiculous.

The Islamic religion may be different than most of the widely accepted Christian religions. But different isn’t bad.

Secondly, our nation was founded on religious freedom. That extends to the ones we agree with and, perhaps most importantly, those we do not.

Our laws have been very clear that government should never regulate how religion is practiced and what churches are built where. This is a slippery slope that would erode our fundamental freedoms.

And no one should be fooled into thinking this is about security of our nation. That should never be used as a scapegoat for walking all over the Constitution.

Benjamin Franklin understood this perhaps as well any man who ever lived.

“Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both,” he said.

This debate and the public outcry over it is being fueled for political reasons far more than religious ones.

This mosque — actually quite removed from the WTC site by two big New York blocks and dozens of towering buildings — isn’t near the threat some want the public to believe.

Does supporting religious freedom for all make me a terrorist? Nope. It makes me an American.

Michael Caldwell is publisher of The Tribune. To reach him, call (740) 532-1445 ext. 24 or by e-mail at mike.caldwell@irontontribune.com.