Who wins when the U.S. restricts religious freedom?

Today’s guest blogger is Jim Wallis, the author of Rediscovering Values: On Wall Street, Main Street, and Your Street — … Continued

Today’s guest blogger is Jim Wallis, the author of Rediscovering Values: On Wall Street, Main Street, and Your Street — A Moral Compass for the New Economy, and CEO of Sojourners. He blogs at www.godspolitics.com.

There is one thing the opponents of the Cordoba Initiative (that plans to build an Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero) have in common with the Cordoba Initiative’s leadership: their clear condemnation and denunciation of terrorism. They are united in this belief because every time a terrorist tries to claim the mantle of Islam and commits an act of violence, everyone loses.

(For Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf’s statement about the mission of the Cordoba Initiative and condemnation of terrorism, you can go to the front page of their website.)

If everyone seems to be united on this crucial issue, where is the controversy? If the planners and opponents of this initiative all agree that terrorism must be defeated and that Muslim leaders have a special responsibility to ensure that their communities of worship in no way support terrorism and actively work as a force against it, where is the problem? I believe there are a few key questions that get to the heart of the issue. The way we answer them says a lot about ourselves, our own faith, and the collective character of our country.

The first question is this: Does our initial judgment of our neighbors come from their religious labels or the content of their character? I do not advocate a religious pluralism that blurs the distinctions and significant differences between religions, but I do believe that my religious tradition calls me to be a peacemaker and to love my neighbors, especially when I do not agree with them. It is a good thing when you get along with a neighbor with whom you have much in common, but it speaks highly of your character when you build peace between yourself and a neighbor with whom you have differences.

When Muslim leaders step up to lead an initiative to reduce tensions and promote respect and understanding, do we first judge those leaders by the actions of terrorists (whom they have condemned), or do we judge them by their integrity and character? This does not mean I then have to agree with them on everything or pretend differences do not exist, but I will love and respect them and work with them to be peacemakers. Feisal Rauf and his wife Daisy Khan are friends of mine, and I can testify that they are indeed peacemakers.

The second question asks: Do we believe in freedom for my religion or freedom of religion? The “Establishment” and “Free Exercise” clauses of the First Amendment were nothing less than revolutionary statements. They ignited across the globe a new level of religious freedom and protection. As with many parts of our Constitution, they represent ideals to which we aspire but have not always lived up to. Anti-Catholic sentiment barred Catholics from holding many public offices for years. Anti-Semitism and other forms of religious bigotry have reared their ugly head over and over in our history.

But ultimately, many minority groups have flourished in this country, and those who are persecuted in other areas of the world seek asylum here because of our strong history of religious liberty, protection, and freedom. In 2008, our country distinguished itself globally by electing someone of a racial minority as president. We have resisted restrictions on religious expressions targeted at Islam that are appearing in other countries across the world. This speaks greatly to our ability to live up to the ideals in our founding documents.

Finally, we must ask a third question: In the face of global terrorism, who wins when the U.S. restricts religious freedom? The opponents of the Cordoba Initiative seem to be saying that Americans win if we restrict the free expression of religion of some Americans. Religious sensitivities, especially around Ground Zero, are understandable. 9/11 was a crime against humanity, and tragically, it was the first significant encounter many Americans had with radical Islam or Islam of any sort. But this is why the mission of the Cordoba Initiative as a cultural and community center is so important. The goal of the center is to run programs that reduce tensions and build understanding between Muslims and the West. In order for our country to continue healing, more Americans need to meet and build trust and respect with other Americans who are different than they are — especially with the many Muslims who love this country and the freedoms it affords.

If terrorists are able to not only attack us physically but get us to judge our neighbors by labels rather than the content of their character, turn our back on the Constitution and disregard its ideals, and then restrict the religious freedom of other Americans, we all lose.

This is a very important moment. Whether we allow religious freedom for Americans of Islamic faith — near Ground Zero or anywhere else — will determine our own character, the integrity of our faith, and our real commitment to the ideals that have distinguished our nation. Let’s not let fear and bigotry force us to make the wrong decision here.

The content of this blog reflects the views of its author and does not necessarily reflect the views of either Eboo Patel or the Interfaith Youth Core.

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  • ZZim

    The government should not prevent the Muslims from building their mosque. It’s not the goverment’s job to protect us from ourselves. If they want to make this asinine move, then let them.There’s no law against having zero class, that’s just how it is..

  • abrahamhab1

    Abdul Rauf in 2001 said that the U.S. was “an accessory to the crime” in the 9/11 attacks, In 2010 declined to state that Hamas was a terrorist organization,Sometimes in between said”The Islamic method of waging war is not to kill innocent civilians. But it was Christians in World War II who bombed civilians in Dresden and Hiroshima, neither of which were military targets.” As if this is part of the Christian theology.

  • Arif2

    freedom of religion is one thing, freedom of cults is another. No matter what you call vinegar it can never be labelled wine. Islam is just that; grapes gone sour. Islam has its roots in violence, some muslims may appear passive and harmless but the religion itself is violent. Islams prophet was a violent man his spirit lives among his believers. The mosque at Ground Zero is only a muslim way of insisting that building a mosque there will change things. It won’t, muslims cannot be trusted. Muslims just don’t get it, there are no short cuts to gaining trust. Trust is gained the hard way, you earn it. Muslims are going about it the absolut wrong way. muslims may have the law on their side and build the mosque but islam will always be hated. The mosque may get built but it will be a reminder to everyone visiting GZ that close by is a monument to who perpetrated the tragedy. People will hate muslims more. Islam is a filthy religion/cult that will destroy any civilization given time and the opportunity.

  • EddietheInfidel

    From Wikipedia:”Wallis has received criticism for calling the United States “a fallen nation” in his 1976 book Agenda for Biblical People.”The guest columnist appears to have had a dislike for America for some time now, and his assessment of the United States as a “fallen nation” pretty much makes me feel like I can discount everything that comes out of his mouth. While I agree that mistakes have been made in U.S. policy both before and after he wrote this, I think his broad-brush condemnation of the American system makes him look pretty silly and easily discountable as a viable voice.My concerns with the Cordoba Initiative’s project (inexplicably renamed from “Cordoba House” to the innocuous sounding “Park51” in recent days) have more to do with the motivations and agenda of the Cordoba Initiative leadership than it does with the 19 muslim hijackers who killed nearly 3,000 people on 9/11.If Imam Rauf and company were truly interested in interfaith dialog, they’d include prayer spaces for Jews, Christians and other faiths in their design, or alternatively design a secular education center with no prayer spaces at all.I will support Cordoba Initiative’s plan when they do this.Imam Rauf could also defuse a lot of criticism by clearly explaining what he meant when he said that the U.S. was an “accessory to the crime” of 9/11, clarifying just how sharia law and our Consititution and Bill of Rights have so much “in common”, letting us know what the dress code will be at his gym and pool will be (burkini or not), being transparent regarding his sources for foreign funding of the project, and telling us how the Perdana Global Peace Organization contribution (of which he is a key leader) of $366,000 to the Free Gaza Movement was spent.Imam Rauf has vacillated on many points regarding this project; he has the opportunity to do real good in improving the image of islam in many eyes. So far, I don’t seem him as doing a very good job.

  • elcidproject

    The burden of proof is on Imam Rauf, given that Islam was begun as a religion of conquest. The use of the word “Cordoba” is provocative, in that it refers to the conquest of Christian Spain during medieval times by Islam.

  • libertymeanslife

    NATO has predicted that Western Europe will have a muslim majority population by the tern of the century; however, there have been predicted that this will happen much sooner. W Europe opened their countries to muslims in the 1980’s and now regret doing so. Muslims are causing hugh problems for these countries. There is NO moderate muslim; they read their “book” which states we are infidels and they should not associate with us; their aim is to conquer the Western world and they, with our help, are doing a darn good job of it. Muslims have sued many private colleges in the U.S. re wording of Our Lord, etc. (they lost) and if they become majority they will install their laws. Women get ready for this as we will again become second class citizens without many rights if they become majority. They are multiplying like rabbits.

  • CRinNC

    Wow.. so much fear by commenters, it’s really sad.. And clearly due to lack of knowledge, lack of familiarity. I’ve lived 10 years in Turkey. It has many millions and millions of, yes, moderate muslims. People you can be comfy with, chat and relax with, swap recipes. I could barely tell them from American Christians, except in unimportant externals! What’s an occasional scarf on the head – no worse than some of the things I see here in North Carolina on college students – ugh! Muslims are just as kindly (or not) as anyone else, not the monsters that the writers fear and cringe from. They want the best for their kids, a good education, job, a good husband or wife. Mostly the wives handle the family money. Their music is of love, love, love – cheesy, like ours. OK, they pray differently – up, down, and in Arabic. Big deal. Seems I remember some Christian churches that like foreign languages too, Latin or Greek or whatever. Mennonites have beards.. a lot in common with muslims, actually, clothes-wise. Get a grip, folks. We already live with a lot of differences, you’ve just forgotten that.