New York, NY – While the Democrat candidate debate in South Carolina had the participants focusing on Bernie Sanders, the previous few debates were all about former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg. He is no stranger to making controversial statements and taking actions that raised more than just a few eyebrows.
Ten years ago, political controversy swirled around plans for an Islamic community center and mosque near the site of the World Trade Center. Bloomberg was there at the center of it all, advocating on behalf of the project.
Let’s pause for a moment to be reminded of something, the 1st Amendment.
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.
The authors chose their words carefully. It is ordered purposefully.
I am an ardent supporter of the 1st Amendment. But, I am also a big fan of common sense.
As such, I would stand in opposition to the city of Waco, Texas erecting a statue of David Koresh on the town square.
Religious extremism, regardless of the religion, is a bad thing. In no way am I lumping all members of Islam into the same group with the men who planned, coordinated, carried out or applauded the evil and sinister attack on our country 18 years ago.
But even through all of the criticism that Bloomberg faced, he doubled down on his support of the mosque. And that criticism hasn’t gone away.
The Western Journal writes:
Former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg is desperately trying to cash in his political capital from his handling of the city after the 9/11 attacks in his bid to be the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee.
Mayor Rudy Giuliani led the city through the dark period that followed, giving way to Bloomberg in January 2002.
The plans on how or even if to rebuild at the twin towers site took over a decade to finally be executed, but among those plans was a mosque and Islamic center just two blocks from ground zero.
Even back then, President Trump was outspoken about it.
The Ground Zero Mosque should not go up where planned. It is wrong. My offer still stands to buy the property. Good deal for everyone.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 10, 2012
In response to all of the criticism, the mayor ignored those who justifiably opposed the project, saying in 2010:
“I think it’s fair to say if somebody was going to try, on that piece of property, to build a church or a synagogue, nobody would be yelling and screaming.”
But Mike, there isn’t an entire movement of Christian or Jewish extremists that are hellbent on watching our nation crumble and its citizens die.
Bloomberg had been an outspoken defender of the project on freedom of religion grounds, though critics say building a mosque so close to the site of the terror attacks is at best insensitive.
Many of those critics are quick to point out that it isn’t about the building itself, but more so about some of the people involved.
They note that Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, who has described himself as a bridge builder across religious divides, refused in a recent radio interview to directly condemn Hamas and said in a 2001 TV interview that U.S. foreign policy was an “accessory to the crime” of the 9/11 attacks, though he also has condemned terrorism and fanaticism, saying they have no part in Islam.
But, during a 2005 conference in Australia, he compared America to Al Qaeda.
“We tend to forget, in the West, that the United States has more Muslim blood on its hands than Al Qaeda has on its hands of innocent non-Muslims,” Rauf said.
He was speaking at the Bob Hawke Prime Ministerial Center during a question and answer session dedicated to what sponsors say was a dialogue to improve relations between America and the Muslim world.
“You may remember that the U.S.-led sanctions against Iraq led to the death of over half a million Iraqi children. This has been documented by the United Nations.”
In light of those comments, Roman Catholic Archbishop Timothy Dolan said that New Yorkers share values of tolerance and unity but he’s worried those values are at risk.
“We’re just a little bit apprehensive that these noble values may be a bit at risk in this way the conversation and debate about the site of the mosque is taking place,” Dolan said after a meeting with Governor David Paterson.
Paterson wants mosque leaders to consider an alternative location. Mosque supporters say religious freedom should be protected.
Dolan said both sides of the debate have legitimate stances.
“I sure don’t have strong feelings on where the mosque should ultimately be,” he said
While addressing the controversial project, and speaking with the Statue of Liberty as a backdrop, surrounded by religious leaders from the city, Bloomberg upheld the proposed mosque as an example of the religious tolerance that made New York famous, reminding his audience that Jews, Quakers and Catholics had all suffered religious discrimination within the city in the past.
Here is that speech in its entirety.
We have come here to Governors Island to stand where the earliest settlers first set foot in New Amsterdam, and where the seeds of religious tolerance were first planted.
We’ve come here to see the inspiring symbol of liberty that, more than 250 years later, would greet millions of immigrants in the harbor, and we come here to state as strongly as ever – this is the freest city in the world. That’s what makes New York special and different and strong.
Our doors are open to everyone – everyone with a dream and a willingness to work hard and play by the rules.
New York City was built by immigrants, and it is sustained by immigrants – by people from more than a hundred different countries speaking more than two hundred different languages and professing every faith. And whether your parents were born here, or you came yesterday, you are a New Yorker.
We may not always agree with every one of our neighbors. That’s life and it’s part of living in such a diverse and dense city. But we also recognize that part of being a New Yorker is living with your neighbors in mutual respect and tolerance. It was exactly that spirit of openness and acceptance that was attacked on 9/11.
On that day, 3,000 people were killed because some murderous fanatics didn’t want us to enjoy the freedom to profess our own faiths, to speak our own minds, to follow our own dreams and to live our own lives.
Of all our precious freedoms, the most important may be the freedom to worship as we wish. And it is a freedom that, even here in a city that is rooted in Dutch tolerance, was hard-won over many years. In the mid-1650s, the small Jewish community living in lower Manhattan petitioned Dutch Governor Peter Stuyvesant for the right to build a synagogue – and they were turned down.
In 1657, when Stuyvesant also prohibited Quakers from holding meetings, a group of non-Quakers in Queens signed the Flushing Remonstrance, a petition in defense of the right of Quakers and others to freely practice their religion. It was perhaps the first formal, political petition for religious freedom in the American colonies – and the organiser was thrown in jail and then banished from New Amsterdam.
In the 1700s, even as religious freedom took hold in America, Catholics in New York were effectively prohibited from practicing their religion – and priests could be arrested.
Largely as a result, the first Catholic parish in New York City was not established until the 1780’s – St Peter’s on Barclay Street, which still stands just one block north of the World Trade Center site and one block south of the proposed mosque and community center.
This morning, the city’s Landmark Preservation Commission unanimously voted not to extend landmark status to the building on Park Place where the mosque and community center are planned. The decision was based solely on the fact that there was little architectural significance to the building.
But with or without landmark designation, there is nothing in the law that would prevent the owners from opening a mosque within the existing building. The simple fact is this building is private property, and the owners have a right to use the building as a house of worship.
The government has no right whatsoever to deny that right – and if it were tried, the courts would almost certainly strike it down as a violation of the US Constitution.
Whatever you may think of the proposed mosque and community center, lost in the heat of the debate has been a basic question – should government attempt to deny private citizens the right to build a house of worship on private property based on their particular religion?
That may happen in other countries, but we should never allow it to happen here. This nation was founded on the principle that the government must never choose between religions, or favor one over another.
The World Trade Center Site will forever hold a special place in our City, in our hearts. But we would be untrue to the best part of ourselves – and who we are as New Yorkers and Americans – if we said ‘no’ to a mosque in lower Manhattan.
Let us not forget that Muslims were among those murdered on 9/11 and that our Muslim neighbors grieved with us as New Yorkers and as Americans. We would betray our values – and play into our enemies’ hands – if we were to treat Muslims differently than anyone else. In fact, to cave to popular sentiment would be to hand a victory to the terrorists – and we should not stand for that.
For that reason, I believe that this is an important test of the separation of church and state as we may see in our lifetime – as important a test – and it is critically important that we get it right.
On September 11, 2001, thousands of first responders heroically rushed to the scene and saved tens of thousands of lives. More than 400 of those first responders did not make it out alive. In rushing into those burning buildings, not one of them asked ‘What God do you pray to?’ ‘What beliefs do you hold?’
The attack was an act of war – and our first responders defended not only our city but also our country and our Constitution. We do not honor their lives by denying the very Constitutional rights they died protecting. We honor their lives by defending those rights – and the freedoms that the terrorists attacked.
Of course, it is fair to ask the organizers of the mosque to show some special sensitivity to the situation – and in fact, their plan envisions reaching beyond their walls and building an interfaith community.
By doing so, it is my hope that the mosque will help to bring our city even closer together and help repudiate the false and repugnant idea that the attacks of 9/11 were in any way consistent with Islam.
Muslims are as much a part of our city and our country as the people of any faith and they are as welcome to worship in lower Manhattan as any other group. In fact, they have been worshiping at the site for the better part of a year, as is their right.
The local community board in lower Manhattan voted overwhelming to support the proposal and if it moves forward, I expect the community center and mosque will add to the life and vitality of the neighborhood and the entire city.
Political controversies come and go, but our values and our traditions endure – and there is no neighborhood in this city that is off limits to God’s love and mercy, as the religious leaders here with us today can attest.
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