Mosque Debate: Democracy Is A Messy Business
By MICHAEL SCHENKLER
“The Ground Zero mosque debate is a good reminder that democracy, at its best, is a messy business.”
The Facebook post above of John Kominicki, publisher of Long Island Business News, brought home to me the absurdity of the debate that many of us have been immersed in.
Although I never intended the Mosque near Ground Zero to be my column topic or even my argument, some hurtful and bigoted words – as subtle as they may have been – have drawn me in.
The printed words, my email, Facebook page, Tweets, have pounded home the diversity of opinion about American attitude towards the freedoms of the diversity of religions.
If you don’t know me yet, to me, there is no debate; Islam is entitled to the same rights as Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, or atheistism or agnosticism. Believe, don’t believe, worship, don’t worship, where or whenever you want.
From the founding of this nation – as a matter of fact well before the founding – our land’s establishment was based on Freedom of Religion.
In 1657, the first document of religious freedom was penned in this land – right here in Queens. The Flushing Remonstrance issued at the Bowne House beautifully articulated the right of the Quakers to worship as they pleased in spite of a ban by Governor Peter Stuyvesant. This precursor to the First Amendment is perhaps the greatest single contribution that our borough has given the nation.
The settlement of most of the other colonies was by those who came to this new land in search of the right to worship freely. The colonists wanted a chance to worship freely and have an opportunity to choose which religion they wanted to take part in.
Our Constitution’s First Amendment guarantees freedom of religion: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
So how then is there a debate as to the right for someone to build a house of worship on land he owns? Would the debate exist if it were a Jewish temple, a Catholic Church, a Buddhist temple?
And by the way, just how close is too close? If 2 blocks is no good, how about 4? 8? A mile? All of Manhattan? How about we ban all mosques building in New York City? The State? The Nation?
Let’ outlaw Islam! After all it was Muslim fanatics who destroyed the World Trade Center and killed some 3,000 people in the process.
Should we outlaw their religion or just lock them all up?
Sorry, I’m getting carried away.
Let’s just prevent a mosque from being built within 2 blocks of ground zero.
Then must we also prevent a synagogue or church?
If someone pauses at the Trade Center Memorial to say a prayer, should we stop them?
If they take out a prayer mat and bow to Allah, should we stop them then?
Amazingly, according to a recent Sienna College poll, 64 percent of Americans believe the developers have a constitutional right to build a mosque near ground zero – only 28 percent say they do not. As polls go, that’s as one-sided as you get. Even among those who oppose the mosque, agree by a margin of 51-42 percent they have a right to build it.
That leaves, my friends, very few options to those who are in opposition to the mosque.
1) They can – and I encourage them to do so – express civilly their opinion that sensitivities should guide the mosque’s builders to seek another location. The developers have pretty clearly said they are not moving.
2) This is America, the almighty buck talks. The old Burlington Coat Factory site may just have a price. Let those who oppose offer to buy it allowing the developers to take a profit and find a more prominent location, but not quite as close to “Ground Zero.” Hey, opponents, put your money where your mouth is.
Now, I have no objection if civil discourse or financial discourse is used by the opponents to encourage the movement of the mosque. Such is the American way.
But to suggest that government should get involved in blocking the construction of a house of worship is antithetical to all our nation is about.
I’m sad that the issue has become a political football.
Government’s only comment should be to quote the First Amendment and not to make more of an issue out of what is an overly heated debate.
The President had to speak of religious freedom. I wish it stopped there.
The Mayor can wave the Constitution but could have not participated in the debate.
Harry Reid proved to be a disingenuous Democratic Leader and I hope should he return to the Senate, his colleagues make him pay by choosing another leader.
I can respect opposition, but only if they acknowledge the basic tenet guaranteed to all religions by our Constitution.
Anything less is un-American.
“The Ground Zero mosque debate is a good reminder that democracy, at its best, is a messy business.”MSchenkler@QueensTribune.com
Charter Commission Weighs Extra Term For Incumbents
By HENRY STERN
The Charter Revision Commission met Monday evening to decide what amendments to the City Charter will be placed on the ballot in November. The Commission’s recommendations are generally beneficial and should not arouse much public controversy, except from diehards who want the political process to be as arduous and arcane as possible.
The Commission was appointed in March 2010. Its primary mission was to settle the issue of term limits, which had been approved by the voters in 1993 and 1996. In September 2008, when it was too late for anyone else to place a charter amendment on the ballot, Mayor Bloomberg proposed, and the Council approved, a charter amendment overriding the public referenda in the ’90s, and providing third-term eligibility for themselves. To make amends for this last-minute power play, the mayor promised to appoint a charter commission in 2010, with the expectation that the term limits issue would be resolved.
The Commission did agree to send the issue to a referendum in November, but unfortunately there is a catch. The issue of when term limits, as approved by the public, will go into effect is in dispute. Logically, the effective date should be the next election for councilmembers, scheduled for 2013.
However, an effort was being made to ‘grandfather’ only those councilmembers elected in 2005, so that they will be able to remain in office until 2017, even if the public votes in 2010 for a two-term limit.
That would be an enormous injustice. Members of the classes of 2001 and 2005 stretched the law to its limit by voting to extend their own eligibility. They found a loophole in the Charter and drove right through it. Now, if the public votes for a two-term limit, it would mean they must leave in 2013, as the Charter originally provided. As a result, they are seeking to create yet another loophole by grandfathering themselves into third-term eligibility. This would again frustrate the will of the voters if they support a limit of two terms, with which polls indicate that 71 percent of the voters agree.
If the Commission and its members seek to retain their good reputations for integrity and independence, they cannot allow this scheme to succeed. When the public repeatedly says, in its Orwellian mode, “Two terms good, three terms bad” the handful of councilmembers who created the problem in the first place should not be allowed to concoct another scheme to deny the public the right to vote on whether they should have third-term eligibility. The officials are trying to prohibit the jurors from even considering whether they should be allowed to profit from their misdeeds.
This was the time to close the door on this unfortunate chapter of New York political history. To allow the situation to carry over to 2017 would invite another referendum next year on the same issue. That would denigrate and obscure the other serious matters on which the Charter commission is charged with deliberating.
Close the barn door. Conclude this matter in 2011. Let the Charter Revision Commission go forward with constructive study of municipal issues, of which there are many, rather than stooping to reward the handful of self-serving councilmembers whose desire to linger generated this problem.
By the time you read this, you should know what deed was done.
Latest census, taken by Anne-Katrin Titze, shows 114 geese, nine swans and numerous ducks on the Prospect Park Lake. The swans are members of two families, who are not always friendly to each other. The population consists of four adults and five cygnets. On July 7, Federal agents removed and executed about 300 geese, but the lake is being repopulated as new Canada Geese arrive. They are apparently unaware of the fate that befell their brothers and sisters last month.
The Pelham Parkway 87, originally marked for destruction for highway construction, have received a temporary reprieve after their cause was embraced by local newspapers, Regis Philbin of ABC, who grew up near Pelham Park way, and community activists. The city will review its design to protect both trees and cars.
A greater threat has arisen to the trees on Pelham Parkway South. The proposed reconstruction of a sewer threatens the roots of mature trees on the sidewalk and in the park. The plans should be reviewed by the community and the city agencies involved, Design & Construction and Environmental Protection, before any excavation is begun.