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Obama should stand by principles, and his comments on mosque…

August 16, 2010 by  
Filed under News, Politics, Weekly Columns

( On Friday evening while celebrating a Ramadan Iftar dinner at the White House, President Obama did what any president should do. He defended the rights of Americans to practice their religion on America soil. The problem is that on Saturday, bowing to pressure from some Republicans and others, the president became a politician and tried to parse his words, softening the solid stand he took just one evening before.

During his Friday evening speech President Obama told his guests, “Let me be clear: As a citizen, and as president, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country. That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in Lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances. This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable.”

Our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable, but is Obama’s?

On Saturday while in Panama City, Florida, the president softened his stance saying that his Friday evening comments were not an endorsement of the New York Muslim community center and mosque project proposed to be built at Park Place, two blocks from the target of the 2001 attacks.

I was not commenting and I will not comment on the wisdom of making a decision to put a mosque there,” he said. “I was commenting very specifically on the right that people have that dates back to our founding. That is what our country is about.”

The position of those in opposition to the proposed 15-story mixed-use space which would include a mosque, a performing arts center, a pool and a restaurant is very clear. Abraham H. Foxman, National Director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) says, “To us…the overriding concern should be the sensitivities of the families of the …At its essence, our position is about sensitivity. Everyone — victims, opponents and proponents alike — must pay attention to the sensitivities involved without giving in to appeals to, or accusations of, bigotry.”

Foxman is dead wrong. Being sensitive to the concerns of the families of the victims is very important. Allowing those concerns to undermine the constitutionally protected right of the free practice and exercise of religious expression can not be supported.

Islam did not attack America on September 11, 2001; misguided Muslims did. To oppose the building of a mosque because of the actions of a few Muslims is by its definition bigotry.

Catholicism did not molest boys, Catholic priests did. Should all Catholic churches in New York be closed because of the actions of too many pedophile priests and the Vatican’s inability or unwillingness to control them? Should all Christians be condemned because of the atrocities committed by the Ku Klux Klan, a white “Christian” organization or because the “Christian” Rev. Jerry Falwell supported and defended the racist government in South Africa and opposed the release of Nelson Mandela?

When discussing qualifications for a Supreme Court nominee, President Obama was castigated by Republicans such as House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH), Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) and others for saying, “I view that quality of empathy, of understanding and identifying with people’s hopes and struggles, as an essential ingredient for arriving at just decisions and outcomes.”

Now Boehner says, “This is not an issue of law, whether religious freedom or local zoning. This is a basic issue of respect for a tragic moment in our history.” Congressman Boehner was wrong in his criticism then and is wrong now. We should now be more sensitive to a moment in history than 223 years of Constitutional law? The Constitutional protection of religious freedom can not be weighed or analyzed based on the subjective perspectives of certain Americans. In protecting the rights of a few, we protect the rights of us all.

On Friday evening the president was correct on the issue and correct on the law. He should now stand as firm as he was clear, “Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country … This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable.”

Written By Dr. Wilmer J. Leon III

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