Be careful what you wish for

Islamic Center not a state/church violation

By Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker
Co-Presidents
Freedom From Religion Foundation

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is receiving a new variation on crank mail — religious-right folk filling out our online form facetiously to report the same so-called state/church violation: the “mosque being built at Ground Zero.” They demand to know why isn’t FFRF isn’t suing over this “violation.”

It is telling that the group that is suing is the American Center for Law & Justice, founded by the Rev. Pat Robertson. The ACLJ specializes in complaining any time the government tries to distance itself from advancing or showing favoritism toward Christianity. For instance, right now the ACLJ, a group of legal pitbulls for Jesus, backed by 67 U.S. senators and representatives, is demanding the right to argue the government’s case against FFRF over the National Day of Prayer. These born agains have a lot of gall.

Now the ACLJ has gone to court representing a first responder firefighter who claims “the land use process of New York City now threatens to do what the terrorists failed to accomplish and destroy a building.”

The Islamic Center is not being built “at Ground Zero,” contrary to hysterical claims. The Sufi Muslim center will replace an old building 2 blocks from the area, which the Landmark Commission has determined does not meet its criteria for architectural preservation. The Islamic Center meets pre-existing zoning requirements; it is not asking for preferential treatment.

Would the ACLJ be suing if this building were being purchased by the Roman Catholic Church or the Southern Baptists or even the Mormons? If we can't allow a mosque in New York City, then neither should we allow churches. Look what the invading Christians did to the Indian tribe that used to live in Manahatta, which became Manhattan. These Europeans arrived with a gun in one hand and a bible in the other.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg in his eloquent Aug. 7 speech pointed out that in the mid-1650s a small Jewish community was denied the right to build a synagogue in Manhattan. Next it was the Quakers who were denied a meeting place. It was not until the 1780s that Roman Catholics were permitted to build a church in New York City.

Bloomberg’s speech on this controversy  says it best:

“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.

“. . . 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. . . . 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.”

The Foundation works to buttress the beleaguered Establishment Clause. But there are two religious freedom clauses in the First Amendment, and we are a firm exponent of the free exercise clause as well — granting individuals freedom of conscience. The distinction, always lost on the religious right, is that the government may not exercise a religious point of view. Religious speech or action by the government showing religious favoritism chills the rights of the disfavored classes in violation of the Establishment Clause.

The same hysteria that has most Americans opposing the Islamic Center could equally be directed to oppose an atheist center or freethought hall. The Bill of Rights happily protects the rights of minorities and enshrines personal conscience into our Constitution.

Be careful what you wish for
Chemerinsky warns standing foes their arguments used against them

The ACLJ, along with umpteen religious-right groups, previously submitted friend of the court briefs against FFRF’s right to sue President Bush over creation of his faith-based office at the White House and Cabinets. The Supreme Court famously ruled in Hein v. FFRF in 2007 that we lacked standing as taxpayers to sue the executive branch over this very major violation.

Our main litigation attorney has consistently warned that “what is good for the goose is good for the gander.” That, in working aggressively to slam shut those courthouse doors against citizens attempting to redress egregious Establishment Clause violations, the ACLJ may find those same doors slamming shut when it sues on behalf of its plaintiffs.

Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of University of California-Irvine School of Law and a prominent legal scholar, wrote a fascinating piece, “Who has standing to appeal Prop 8 ruling?” yesterday for the Los Angeles Times. “Ironically,” writes Chemerinsky, “it is a legal doctrine fashioned by conservatives that may provide a decisive victory to the supporters of marriage equality for gays and lesbians and end the litigation over California's Proposition 8. For decades, conservative justices on the Supreme Court have ruled to limit who has standing to bring a claim in federal court. In cases involving civil rights, environmental protection and the separation of church and state, the court has ordered that cases be dismissed because the party pursuing the case had no legal standing to do so.”

Chemerinsky points out that with the defendant — the State of California (Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger among other officials) — refusing to appeal, the appeals court and the Supreme Court “could well rule that opponents of same-sex marriage have no standing to appeal U.S. District Chief Judge Vaughn R. Walker's decision striking down Proposition 8.” (The fact that the 9th Circuit late yesterday stayed Walker's order does not necessarily bode ill for its final actions. As Chemerinsky likewise explained to media, such action by the appeals court pre-empted the opponents' plan to press the Supreme Court to take premature action.)

The Prop. 8 opponents are religious-right groups; their members are simply true believers who don’t approve of marriage equality. As Chemerinsky points out, “if those courts follow well-established law, they will need to dismiss the appeal on grounds that those who filed it have no standing.”

The religious right may be in for a rude shock: Be careful what you wish for.

Those who work perniciously to take away civil liberties from others will find, eventually, their own civil liberties being curtailed.

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