Calling the New York City Planning Commission’s green light on the Cordoba project as important of a “test of the separation of church and state as we may see in our lifetimes," he talked about how government’s hands (the ones he was at the moment wringing, later washing) were tied.Too bad we couldn’t see a close-up of his fingers—surely they were crossed, especially when he said this: “The simple fact is, this building is private property, and the owners have a right to use the building as a house of worship, and 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 U.S. Constitution.”
So it’s a property rights issue, as well as a Constitutional one. And the “government has no right whatsoever” to stand in the way. Right. Got it. Presumably, he was speaking specifically of his particular municipality—but by extension, since he brought the framers into it, he certainly indicated any level of government.
Tell that to Father Mark Arey, of The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, because his denomination has been trying to rebuild a tiny, but venerable church in that same neighborhood—one destroyed on that fateful day almost nine years ago. The St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church has experienced a multi-year hassle of horror in the shadow of an Islamist dream come true. The symbolism and contrast could not be more stark or striking.
In many ways, this is not a story of discrimination against a Christian church (though it would certainly be reasonable to see it that way). It is not odd that St. Nicholas is having a hard time of it, because their experience is common—even the norm in this country.
Churches are routinely thwarted, detoured, challenged, opposed, and otherwise hassled when it comes to building, expansion, or relocation plans. Yes, there are laws designed to protect them—the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA), for example. But in practical terms getting something approved by local “powers that be” is nothing short of stabbing a haystack with a needle.