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True Slant: The slow death of religious freedom in America

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Brentwood, Tennessee is a nice, suburban community located in the state’s Williamson County – a county perennially listed as one of the wealthiest in the nation. It is also the unlikely location for the latest nail in the coffin of religious freedom in America.

The Muslim-Americans in the community of Brentwood had hoped to build a mosque in the pursuit of practicing their religion. After the prospective organizers of the project agreed to a series of reasonable restrictions requested by the Brentwood City Commission, the Commission voted to rezone a fifteen acre parcel of land for use as the Islamic Center of Williamson County.

That’s when the haters got busy.

The plan to derail a proposed mosque in Brentwood was simple but effective. Through e-mails, blogs and word of mouth, opponents told friends and neighbors they were suspicious of the mosque and feared its leaders had ties to terrorist organizations. The encouraged citizens to write letters to the city commission expressing their concerns, including worries about traffic and flooding.
Via The Tennessean

The Muslims in Brentwood gave up last week. Dr. Jaweed Ansari, a Brentwood physician who was one of the organizers of the mosque project, summed up the situation by saying, “There comes a time when you have to say, we can’t do this anymore.”

Meanwhile, in New York City, plans to build a mosque and community center two blocks from Ground Zero has run into a buzz saw due to strong, conservative opposition – opposition supported by United States Congressman Peter King (R-N.Y.) who tells us that allowing the religious center to be built is “very offensive and wrong”.

I guess Rep. King didn’t get the memo that a great many innocent Muslim-Americans also died in the 9-11 attacks.

Now, Bret Stephens, writing in the Wall Street Journal, suggests that those who want to build the New York mosque be required to answer a series of questions – a religious litmus test – before they should be permitted to move forward with their plans. Stephens makes this suggestion under the pretext of supporting the planned religious center – but only if they can pass the Stephens test for religious acceptability. Stephens writes-

As a confidence-building measure for those of us who live in the neighborhood, it would help if the pair voluntarily answered some questions about the nature of their beliefs.
Via Wall Street Journal

Apparently, religious freedom is just fine – so long as Mr. Stephens and neighbors are ‘confident’ that the beliefs of those in question are satisfactory to the neighborhood.

Here are a few samples of the Stephens exam for practicing religious freedom:

-Who perpetrated the attacks of 9/11, and what was their religion?
-Are suicide attacks or other forms of violent jihad acceptable under any circumstances, including against American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan?
-Does Israel have a right to exist as a Jewish state?
-Do they agree with the State Department’s designation of Hamas and Hezbollah as terrorist organizations?
-What aspects of Shariah law, if any, do they repudiate?

Maybe I’m suffering from a severe memory lapse, but I just can’t seem to recall the part in the Constitution where the Founders created freedom of religion with the pre-requisite that those wishing to pursue their faith can only do so by turning in an acceptable performance on a local edition of “Jeopardy”. I also have some recollection that one of the key principles behind our democratic experiment is the separation of politics from religion, and yet here Mr. Stephens wants to grade these Muslims on their response to purely political questions.

This latest round of Muslim hatred in America should come as no surprise. As the national dialogue continues to be fed by the narrow views of the religious right, we’ve seen religion play an ever increasing role to the point where it is now virtually impossible for someone to run for elective office without first making a public profession of fealty to God as a qualification to hold office.

What is particularly ridiculous about the efforts to prevent Muslims from practicing their faith is the constant suggestion that their places of worship are centers for terrorist activity and must, therefore, be avoided at all costs.

While it is no doubt true that there are some American-Muslims who have negative, possibly violent, feelings towards America – just as there have always been organizations in this country with violent objection to African-Americans, Jews, Catholics, etc. – is anyone so naive as to believe that these people are incapable of gathering absent the existence of a mosque to bring them together? When the Klan gathered to burn a cross on the front lawn of a Black or Jewish family, did they organize the event behind the walls of their local Baptist church? Maybe – but that certainly never presented an argument to deny the local Baptists the opportunity to build that church so as to benefit those who were simply looking for a place to worship in accordance with their beliefs.

Once again, we find that in the effort to protect our country, we are destroying our country.

While people like Bret Stevens may believe their intentions to be good, is it wrong for us to expect that someone who is privileged to write for one of the country’s most widely distributed newspapers would have the intellectual capacity to see that his suggestion is a serious blow to this nation’s fundamental principles?

This needs to stop – and it needs to stop now. While some may believe they are doing what is necessary to protect the nation, we are soon going to wake up to find ourselves living in a country we can no longer recognize.

Let’s hope it is not too late already.

Source: True Slant

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Muslim American born in Brooklyn, NY with Guyanese parents currently living in Virginia working full-time as a web developer.

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