The planned building of that mosque at Ground Zero—the story that should not and will not go away—has reopened a national wound. The in-your-face-absurdity of the whole thing is missed only by elitist politicians and those willfully blind to history, not to mention clear and present danger. The poster child for such nefarious naiveté has to be New York City Mayor, Michael Bloomberg.
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.
In San Antonio, Texas, a small evangelical church called The Elijah Group purchased an existing church building in a zone the city had marked for retail purposes back in 2007. This was designed to increase commerce. The church has been forced into a potentially costly and lengthy legal battle against the city. Someone there should call in Mike Bloomberg to make that special speech—especially the part that says: “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.”
My point is not that the church in San Antonio should have carte blanche (though that is surely my bias), but that it is simply untrue that government can’t stand in the way of churches. They do it all the time! It’s part of our way of life. And even when suits are brought on behalf of churches based on RLUIPA, they are not always successful. Some win, some lose, and others result in creative outcomes. But there is not a slam-dunk to be found.
That is, unless you are going to build a mosque at Ground Zero or expand an Islamic school in Fairfax County Virginia.
Possibly you remember that Fairfax County case from last year? Twenty-five years after a Christian school on the same site was denied the right to expand—due to traffic and other concerns—a Saudi-funded school known for its promotion of Sharia in its curriculum was given the green light to do just that. And, here’s some rocket science—traffic there is worse now.
What’s really going on?
Frankly, it’s nothing less than the morphing of America before our very eyes. Every break is being given and every benefit of what should be very real doubt is being applied to our Muslim neighbors when they want to build, expand, relocate, or even desecrate.
But it’s another story for churches.
So—here’s the deal. If we’re going to roll over and play dead for Muslim mosques and schools, let’s apply the same standard to churches. Fair enough? At least give us a fighting chance to grow our churches and spread our message. It’s this influence that has opposed and tempered tyrannical human tendencies for centuries. And when you think about the Judeo-Christian ethic, you are dealing with the religious core of this nation. That’s right. Not a state church. Not an “official” religion. But while the Judeo-Christian ethic has been the dominant religious force in America, there has, in fact, been religious freedom.
Such would not (and will not if Islamists have their way) be the case in a Muslim-majority America.
So, if you insist on a fast track for Muslim mosques and schools, then do so with Christian ministries, as well—and we’ll work it out in the marketplace of ideas. That’s religious liberty. What has been happening lately, in effect, has been nothing short of a de facto “affirmative action” program for Islam in America.
A while back, one church in our county wanted to expand their facilities on the 12-acre site they owned. But officials refused to let it happen. So the church bought a larger tract (76 acres) of land, only to be denied a permit to build again. One zoning board member said: “We don’t need churches this large in Fairfax County.”
Yet another church in our area took nine years to fight through the process to build a new facility, having the plans rejected six times. The legal expenses alone were about $300,000. They wanted to build a 1,500 seat auditorium and one zoning board member said—right on the record—“For churches to really do what they are supposed to do, there shouldn’t be more than 350 people.”
Of course, the very first Christian church, on the Day of Pentecost in the Book of Acts, would have been in immediate violation of this zoning board member’s theological perspective, since 3,000 joined the church at Jerusalem on its very first day of existence.
A Catholic congregation in California has had a lot of trouble expanding to meet the needs of parishioners and the larger community—issues to do with an environmental impact study related to their church’s bell. Quick, somebody ring Mike Bloomberg for his religious liberty pep talk!
In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find examples of Christian churches attempting to build, expand, or relocate without push back from various agencies and officials. And these are the rules by which most of us in ministry have resigned ourselves to play by for many years.
Sorry, the Cordoba Mosque getting the fast track just doesn’t pass the smell test—or any other test, for that matter. Even beyond the grotesque symbolism, there are serious questions about where the money to build is coming from (usually something zoning boards concern themselves with before approval) and about Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, himself. And the whole Sharia Index Project to be connected with the mosque just reeks of sympathetic connections with Hamas and Hezbollah.
Yet, they apparently will have a big ceremony breaking ground for this on September 11, 2011—the 10th anniversary of Islamist infamy.
If it all continues to move forward and actually happens (perish the thought!), then at least let us free those who represent the historic faith-culture of America to fulfill their dreams and potential. Give all religious groups the fast-track option.
Otherwise, we will wake up one day to learn the real difference between a religious dream and a cultural nightmare.
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