While some Religious Right groups have made it very clear that they oppose the construction of an Islamic Center near Ground Zero in New York City despite their so-called commitments to religious freedom, other groups have remained rather silent.
As far as I can tell, the only comment the Family Research Council has made on this issue came in the form of this radio commentary back in June:
Muslims are gaining ground all right–Ground Zero. Hello, I’m Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C. Nine years after terrorists forever altered the New York City skyline, an Islamic leader is threatening to do it again–this time, by building a mosque three blocks from where the twin towers collapsed. To the families of 9-11, this 13-story project is the ultimate insult. “This is a burial ground,” said a dad who lost his son in the attack. The man who bought the land said his people’s only goal was peace. But that’ll be a tough sell in a city that lost 3,000 to his religion’s extremists. Besides, if he really cared about harmony, he’d have picked a less offensive location. Instead, he’s building a monument to Islam on a site where terrorists committed mass-murder in Allah’s name. For years, Muslims have said we need to be sensitive to their needs, their customs, their rights. But is there anything more insensitive than creating a foundation for shar’iah law on the graves that its fanatics killed?
Other Religious Right groups don’t appear particularly eager to take a position on the issue either:
The Becket Fund, which describes itself as a “public interest law firm protecting the free expression of all religious traditions,” has been notably silent considering how outspoken it has been in the past. In addition to helping the Third Church of Christ, Scientist in Washington, DC sue the city using RLUIPA in 2008, the fund represented a New Jersey mosque in 2006 in a RLIUPA case claiming that the city of Wayne, N.J., was “improperly and arbitrarily delaying the mosque’s land development application” due to “community anti-Moslem hostility.” The group is normally not shy about wading into public debates, and recently caused a minor furor by reading nefarious intent into President Obama’s use of the phrase “freedom of worship” instead of “freedom of religion.” Its silence may be related to its conservative political backers. For instance, Newt Gingrich, who has loudly opposed Cordoba House, served as honorary vice chair of one of its annual black-tie dinners.
The Alliance Defense Fund, another conservative religious rights group that has made frequent use of RLUIPA cases, has also stayed out of the debate. “We’ve been asked by a few outlets,” a spokesperson told The Upshot. “We’re not commenting.”
The Upshot spoke with just one person within this ecosystem of religious rights organizations who was neither silent nor contradicting past actions: Matthew Staver, the founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, a religious rights law firm associated with Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University.
“The Constitution cuts both ways,” Staver said. “I think you have to be principled from a legal perspective, because the First Amendment is a double-edged sword.”
Which brings us to this new report from Stuart Shepard and Bruce Hausknecht of Focus on the Family’s Citizenlink voicing their outrage over a church being shut down in Georgia for violating zoning regulations:
Hausknecht: Well here’s the problem: for some reason, around the country cities and counties and other municipalities are hostile to churches, they don’t want them for some reason or another. Usually its taxes …
Shepard: The fact that they don’t pay property taxes.
Hausknecht: They’re usually exempt and so they try to zone them away or discourage them away. And by creating zoning laws the discriminate against churches, they’re violating federal law and the First Amendment.
Shepard: What does this tell us about the state of religious freedom in the United States?
Hausknecht: Well, we’re seeing first a hostility toward religion. You would think in this day and age of tolerance that there would be tolerance for religious views, religious people. There is not. We’re seeing it in the zoning cases, we’re seeing it in the schools. That is a definite wake-up call for people of all faiths to stand up and protect their rights.
So, does that mean that Focus on the Family supports the right to build this Islamic Center or does the organization, like seemingly so many others on the Right, really only believe in protecting and defending “religious freedom” when it involves Christians?