Ground Zero Mosque Exposes Cultural Fault Lines

Ethical dilemma over building a mosque at ground zero in New York exposes some front lines in the culture war raging across America. First, it reveals agendas that become visible when comparing what people say to what they do. Second, it provides opportunity to compare the relative importance of values held by sides in the culture war.

Concerning agendas, most of the people who are pro-religious liberty for building the mosque at that location are anti-manger scenes on public sidewalks. A hidden agenda among many in this pro-mosque group may be counterbalancing their intolerance for one kind of religious expression with tolerance for another. Ironically, most of the people who oppose this location for this mosque are pro-other kinds of religious expression, such as prayer in Jesus’ name at public events. A hidden agenda among many in this anti-mosque group may be to promote one religion over another.

Regarding differing systems of values, ethical dilemmas reveal values priorities. Telling the truth is important. However, during Nazi occupation, many Dutch families hid Jews and lied to occupying forces. Telling the truth wasn’t as important as preserving those lives. The mosque at ground zero exposes competition between at least two important values: 1) National Dignity/Security; and 2) Constitutional Freedoms.

On national dignity and security, some believe allowing the mosque to be built at ground zero will underscore American pluralism and undercut popular support for America’s enemies. For those with overarching concern for America’s dignity and security, however, this mosque location will embarrass America, embolden her enemies, and encourage support for groups like Al-Qaeda. Based upon my personal experience among Muslims and upon what I am hearing from many scholars and reform-minded Muslim leaders, I consider the latter outcome to be the most likely.

With respect to constitutional freedoms, many believe that, in the interests of taste and national security, the government can zone against the religious use of certain private properties. For those with the overarching concern that religious expression should be private and free from public interference, however, such a zoning intrusion would be an unthinkable human rights violation of much greater concern than any dignity or security issues.

As in most wars, one side will win and the other side will lose. Such an outcome in this culture war would be unfortunate for all of America. Reaching a “diplomatic” solution so that both sides can win will require exposing and marginalizing hidden agendas and then accommodating and affirming both sets of competing values. In the quest for public image, the side that wins will likely lose.

9 thoughts to “Ground Zero Mosque Exposes Cultural Fault Lines”

  1. Well-thought out. I appreciated reading this – it was much more unbiased/realistic to both sides than many articles I’ve read on the subject.

  2. Thank you, Bruce. This is not an easy or simple issue.

    According to Romans 13:3-4, our rulers are to be God’s ministers, avengers who execute wrath on those who practice evil, a terror to evil works, not bearing the sword in vain, but offering praise to those who do good. It seems that those who want to build the mosque are up to no good, that they have close associations with those who are more overtly up to no good and that their unstated goal could very well be to build a permanent monument commemorating what many, if not most serious Muslims, worldwide, consider to have been a gloriously victorious attack on the U.S. Thus, New York City officials would be acting well within their God-ordained authority to fully investigate the purposes of the mosque / community center and to determine who is funding it, why and what associations they have with terrorists or jihadists.

    Under the U.S. Constitution, our fundamental right to the free exercise of religion is not without limits. Those who stridently attempt to exercise a fundamental right to the extent that they would willfully trample on the fundamental rights of others should be constrained.

    The more the mosque proponents insist on an absolute right to build the mosque only 500 feet from the edge of ground zero and the more they ignore the many pleas of concern, the more appropriate it becomes for city authorities to examine closely the impacts such a mosque would have on the well-being of its citizens and to examine the motives and associations of those behind the mosque. It is inappropriate for the president to apply bully pulpit political pressure on local officials, attempting to shame them into making what could very well be the wrong decision. If anything, he should encourage them to do their jobs well and refrain from pushing them aside in favor of imposing his views on a subject that his outside of his responsibility.

    Furthermore, it is inconsistent for the mosque sponsors to claim that the intended purpose of the mosque and community center is to foster a spirit of unity and cooperation between Jews, Christians and Muslims while simultaneously ignoring the pleas of Jews and Christians and even mocking them for expressing opposition. Saying one thing and doing the opposite points to the likelihood that their real agenda is to humiliate and oppress a citizenry still recovering from the horror of 9/11. They can build a mosque elsewhere, a respectable distance away from where thousands of citizens were murdered by Muslim jihadists — men who are admired, without apology or shame, by many if not most serious Muslims.

  3. Good observations Lewis, but they won’t be considered valid by the people who consider all religion (Christian & Muslim) to be personal, private, and separate from public life. Rights to religion of this sort are not only fundamental and absolute, but also inconsequential. This assumption about the nature of religion and religious expression leads to different conclusions regarding religious freedom and property rights. Unless Opponents to the plans for Park51 either alter or adapt to these basic assumptions, they are figuratively speaking French to people who only speak German.

  4. Good exposition of various trains of thought Bruce. As most people know the government has powers of eminent domain and easement that allows it to authorize or reject most anything it wants. While it is true as Obama says that every religion has the “right” to build, that “right” can be controlled in large (or a considerable) part by the government if its agents want to.
    As your exposition demonstrates, there are many reasons that different people have for building or not building the mosque. This is a case where people with differing points of view may all be right.

  5. Sir, very well written article. I’m not very well educated, nor am I positive that my views are TOTALLY correct, but I feel that the mosque should be built somewhere else. By the same token, all other “denominational” entities should be likewise curtailed. It’s not about beliefs, it’s about individuals who lost their lives.

    But from a Christian point of view . . . we know that there are certain events that must come about before the second coming of Christ. If we hasten the inevitable . . . well, you get the point. My brother (a registered Republican) voted for Obama based on that concept.

    There are two great forces at work on the earth. Christ’s love, which is the power to choose to follow Him. Satan’s anger, which wants to take that choice from us, or more correctly, coerce us into selling that freedom for a mess of pottage. America is the Promised Land with founders that were divinely inspired. I don’t believe that they would approve of the state of the union today. We don’t HAVE to be “Politically Correct” to be “Correct”. We don’t HAVE to please everyone in order to please Him.

    At the end of the day, you can’t please Both sides. You cannot serve two masters. The will only be one side that “wins” and the other side will lose. It won’t really matter what the “Team Name” is. What will matter is if we (as a people) are choosing freedom, agency, and the love of Christ or if we have chosen another “Mascot”.

    Keep up the good work.


  6. The zoning route is very tricky. It has to be done without discrimination, and there’s a federal law prohibiting zoning discrimination towards religious groups. Certainly a law suit would be in the works if the city zoned against that location. A church in Colorado recently won damages against the city of Boulder which was preventing it from expanding its facility while at the same time allowing other surrounding schools and businesses to expand. Dialogue to reach a compromise would be much better. Obama’s probably right. The law is on the side of the Muslims, but public opinion is another matter for intelligent people to consider. Do mosque proponents really want to be seen as working against national security and dignity? Do mosque opponents really want to force a lawsuit that results in damages being paid to the mosque? In the quest for public image, the side that wins will likely lose.

  7. Good blog! Many have an opinion about this situation, and some quite dogmatic. It seems a bit of a misnomer, because it’s two blocks from Ground Zero, so may be more correct to speak of the proposed Mosque in Manhattan. I agree that negotiations are the way to go:pros and cons both giving up something. Yes, an Islamic Center allowed. No,not there. It’s too close to a [symbolic] cemetary (as head of Al-Jazeera put it, especially for those who’ve lost lost loved ones.

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