Saturday, August 21, 2010

Examining the "Ground Zero Mosque" By Way of Analogy

Suppose Peter was raised Catholic, and was abused repeatedly by a priest. As a result, he no longer practices this religion. He tries to avoid Catholic imagery, which brings back traumatic memories. Can't do it everywhere of course, but his neighborhood and home is safe. His two abutting neighbors are hateful folks who both harbor venously anti-catholic feelings.

Suppose the property across the street from Peter is sold, and a Catholic moves in, and places a statue of Mary in the front yard. Peter sees it every day. He has more nightmares and flashbacks of his abuse as a result. So he goes across the street and talks to his neighbor. He reluctantly recounts his personal history and lingering mental issues with Catholicism. And he asks his neighbor to consider moving the Mary to his back yard or somewhere out of sight from his own property.

If you were his neighbor, what would you do? Would you:

• dismiss your neighbor's concerns out of hand because you have the right to display the Mary as you see fit?

• Agree to seriously consider your neighbor's request, out of respect for his feelings, while making it clear that you would make no promises, and that you expected him to respect your decision either way?

Suppose you decided to move the Mary simply for the sake of good relations, as a show of good faith. Then, before you moved it, one of your anti-catholic neighbors came over and ranted hateful anti-catholic spews at you and demanded that you get rid of the Mary. Would this change you mind?  If so, why?


  1. I can appreciate the parable, and certainly agree there are lessons to be imparted to both sides - for those that are inclined to learn lessons or understand each other's perspective.

    I guess it boils down to this for me - I just don't have the patience or interest to try and tease apart the gordian knot of convoluted arguments and intertwined sincere and craven motivations exhibited by both sides. We have a nice sharp sword in the first amendment that can cleave this knot and leave an unambiguous result. I'm good with that.

  2. I don't think it's a terribly apt or useful analogy. It's only vaguely correlational.

    I remain puzzled as to where the First Amendment comes in here, and why mw keeps flogging it. No one is trying to use legal means stop the project (that I am aware of) nor do I believe anyone can successully do so anyway, as it's a "by right" usage. If the city intervened they would lose on that alone, without ever remotely rising to the level of the First Amendment as a principle. Anyone suing to stop it would also hit that impassable "by right" hurdle, even if they could somehow manage to convince a court they merited standing to sue in the first place, which seems rather unlikely.

    To put it more simply, the First protects the people from the government, and at no level at this point is the government taking any official state actions or exercising any official state functions to prevent, retard, or derail the project. No denials of permit, etc. (No, speechifyin' by public officials does not count.) As far as the Bill of Rights goes, there's no there there. The only place the First has come into play here so far is in people exercising their free speech rights. So far, no one's Constitutional rights appear to be being denied or infringed. (At least, until Ms. Pelosi starts her proposed investigation ... (Sheer snark on my part. As I said, speechifyin' don't count.)

  3. @Tully
    The First Amendment points to True North.

    It may be technically accurate, but it is a peculiarly narrow view to suggest that legal action must be initiated for the document guaranteeing indivudal rights in the Constitution to be relevant.

    Both Jefferson and Madison wrote of their belief that the Bill of Rights was a tool to protect a minority exercising their enumerated individual rights in the Bill of Rights against the passions of the majority:
    ...although we are free by the law, we are not so in practice. Public opinion erects itself into an inquisition, and exercises its office with as much fanaticism as fans the flames of an Auto-da-fé.

    "The prescriptions in favor of liberty ought to be leveled against that quarter where the greatest danger lies, namely, that which possesses the highest prerogative of power. But this is not found in either the Executive or Legislative departments of Government, but in the body of the people, operating by the majority against the minority.“

    In a situation such as this, where passions are inflamed on both sides, and primary arguments are advanced that action be taken based on questioning the motivations of the opposing view, it very useful to have a compass like the 1st Amendment and the Bill of Rights pointing to the correct path.

  4. It may be technically accurate, but it is a peculiarly narrow view to suggest that legal action must be initiated for the document guaranteeing indivudal rights in the Constitution to be relevant.

    In a phrase, BS. IT ISN'T RELEVANT. And that's neither a narrow view nor a peculiar one. Maybe you better go re-read the First*. In what way do you believe anyone's First Amendment rights are being violated here? THEY'RE NOT. Nor does the driving force of those opposed (and even a majority of Democrats are opposed) appear to be religious intolerence. It appears to be resentment of the FU-America "insensitivity" displayed by the promoters.

    Waving the First around at this point is sheer hyperbole, just as much as any being demonstrated by those opposed. The Imam's "free exercise of religion" is no more being violated here than the "freedom of speech" of those who are criticizing the project is being violated. Nada. Zip. One can advance endless "primary arguments" but they are nothing but words unless legal action or state obstruction is present. Or are you making the argument that anytime someone does something under the mantle of religion, all others must remain silent and not criticize, forfeiting their right of free speech?

    As should be glaringly obvious, majority opinion is not "an inquisition." Pope John Paul II demonstrated that he understood a similar dynamic to that we see in this case when he asked the Carmelite nunnery to move away from the walls of Auschwitz. The Carmelites were doing no evil in their own eyes, praying for the souls of the Holocaust victims, but it understandably upset Jews who did not view the presence of German Catholics favorably in a place where so many died at the hands of German Catholics.

    If the Imam is truly sincere about "building bridges," there is certainly opportunity available in this case to do so. Moving farther away (as the Carmelites did) would be one way. Or, as I suggested earlier, inviting the St. Nicholas congregation to share the space would really cut the feet out from under the critics. But judging from his (and his wife's) rhetoric of late, I'd say there is sufficient reason to doubt his sincerity absent some demonstration of good faith. And yes, building a "Victory Mosque" on that spot would indeed be a blatant FU-America statement.

    [*--You might also re-read the whole of Madison's speech, as I don't think his point -- or his subject -- was quite what you seem to think it was. And I find it somewhat amusing that the Jefferson quote is a veiled reference to an instance of purported anti-semitic bigotry on Madison's part, in exercising his executive powers as President. Note that Jefferson is explicitly referring to state actions taken by Madison there. Nor do we know that Madison actually recalled Noah because of American anti-Jewish sentiment, or because of anti-Jewish sentiment among the rulers Noah was envoy to. You know, Muslims? When Obama or Paterson or Bloomberg issue a decree aimed at stalling the mosque project, call me. THAT would be impinging on the First.]