Global Ethics Corner: A Mosque at Ground Zero

Aug 13, 2010

The proposed building of an Islamic community center two blocks from 9/11’s Ground Zero has become a contentious issue. Would building the center promote the American virtues of religious freedom and speech? Or would it be counterproductive and insensitive, even if the intent is pure?

The New York site of the 9/11 terrorist attack is deeply emotional and symbolic. The outcry, "No Mosque at Ground Zero", echoed those volcanic feelings.

Actually, Islamic community leaders proposed building an Islamic community center (with a prayer room) two blocks from the World Trade Center site.

The real issue is promoting religious freedom and pluralism while considering the interests and sensitivities of others.

New York City Mayor Bloomberg has come out strongly in favor of the right to build the center. His speech is a strong statement extolling the virtues of religious freedom in America, and he sees this as a test case.

Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and others think that the builders are insensitive, that the center will be counter-productive, even if the intent is pure.

The outcry made for strange bedfellows. Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich joined the ADL also arguing against the center. Gingrich's comments reflected the intensity and were characterized by The Economist as full of "mean spirit and scrambled logic."

The case of Carmelite nuns settling near Auschwitz in the 1980s is interesting. McGurn argues in The Wall Street Journal, "Without doubt Pope John Paul II did not share the more malevolent interpretations attached to the presence of the Carmelites at Auschwitz. By asking the nuns to withdraw, he … recognize(d) that having the right to do something doesn't mean it's the right thing to do."

What do you think? Is this a fundamental issue of freedom of religion and speech as outlined in the Bill of Rights? Or is the issue living together with a degree of civility and tolerance. Would you build the center?

By William Vocke and Joel Rosenthal


For more information see:

Anne Barnard, "For Mosque Sponsors, Early Missteps Fueled Storm," The New York Times, August 10, 2010.

"Bloomberg on Mosque Vote," [Full text of Bloomberg's speech on August 3, 2010] The Wall Street Journal, August 3, 2010.

Dan Senor, "An Open Letter on the Ground Zero Mosque," The Wall Street Journal, August 3, 2010.

William McGurn, "WTC Mosque, Meet the Auschwitz Nuns," The Wall Street Journal, August 3, 2010.

Photo Credits in order of Appearance:

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Nicholas Laughlin
Speaking of Faith with Krista Tippett
Angela Radulescu
Bob Bobster
Gage Skidmore
European Citizen
Verity Borthwick
Steven Nichols
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