UPDATE 8/16: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s spokesperson says the Senator thinks “the Mosque should be built somewhere else.”
Most readers are aware of the heated national debate over plans to build a 13 story Islamic Mosque (and maybe it’s also a cultural center – the propaganda is inconsistent) adjacent to ground zero in Manhattan where some 2,700 people were slaughtered by Islamic terrorists on 9-11.
Astoundingly, President Obama, who has no obligation to become involved in this local issue, chose to step up in vigorous support of a Ground Zero Mosque in remarks at a White House event Friday evening. After insincere acknowledgment of the World Trade Center site as “hallowed ground” and the pain and suffering of those who lost loved ones, he simply dismissed without consideration any objections to allowing the Mosque to be built:
But let me be clear: as a citizen, and as President, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country. That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances. This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable. The principle that people of all faiths are welcome in this country, and will not be treated differently by their government, is essential to who we are.
The President’s sanctimonious invocation of the right to practice religion is a diversion. Nobody is calling for denial of the right to “practice” Islam. The controversy is over the location of one Mosque, in a city that already has scores of Mosques, where there are no restrictions of “practice.”
As a former member of a Church Board, I happen to have learned that what Obama claims is a right – to build a place of worship on private property – is, in pratice, not really a right at all. Churches are subject to the authority of zoning officials and routinely face barriers that secular building projects do not.
The President should, and probably does know that where local governments are dominated by people with his Leftist point of view, churches are often denied what he claims is their right unless they have the resources and time to litigate in court. In fact, if the Muslims have to find another site in Manhattan their setback will have been be less than zoning setbacks suffered by of Christian churches all across the country.
Local zoning boards publish lists of land-use designations with the types of uses permitted within each designation “as a matter of right,” meaning no special action by the zoning board is required. For example, in a “commercial” zone one may build a retail store as a matter of right, but not a factory. To use a property for an activity not on the list for that property’s zoning designation, one must apply for a “variance” which can be granted or denied, for virtually any reason, at the discretion of the zoning board.
A study of over 200 municipalities by the Chicago law firm Mauck & Baker, found that more than half had no zone whatsoever where houses of worship could locate as a matter of right. Thus, worship is virtually the only activity that may not locate anywhere in those municipalities without first applying to and receiving permission from zoning officials, who operate with the power to deny permission for any reason or no reason. Here are just a few of numerous examples:
- Just last week in Pemberton Borough New Jersey, 80 miles South of Manhattan, the local zoning board rejected a church’s application for permission to renovate an abandoned cheese factory for use as a worship center. The Board admitted its land use plan did not permit a church to locate anywhere without applying for and being granted a variance.
- In 2004 the Vineyard Christian Fellowship of Evanston, Ill had to sue in federal court after the zoning board ruled it could convert an old office building for use as a concert hall but not a for worship. Any legitimate justification to reject a house of worship, such as traffic congestion would, of course, also apply to a concert hall.
- In May the 10Th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the Rocky Mountain Christian Church and school that had been denied building permits to expand its facilities by the Boulder County Colorado zoning board. The Court found that in considering the church’s application for a building permit officials had used a different interpretation of zoning regulations than it had applied when granting permission to a non-religious private school to expand on land with the same zoning and similar circumstances.
These examples were noticed and documented by the media because of litigation. But there is little public record of cases where a church that lacks the resources to mount extended litigation simply gives up after application for land use is denied by local officials.
In a case that was reported Miami’s Church of God Holiness in Christ wanted to convert an abandoned commercial building in the impoverished, crime-ridden, Little Haiti section of Miami. After enduring the city’s autocratic zoning process they finally received permission and made a $40,000 down payment on the property. But then a neighboring business, a strip club, objected and city zoning authorities withdrew permission.
Opponents of the Mosque project note that its name, Cordoba House proves the intended purpose is to serve as a shrine to Islamic triumph over the “infidels” of American liberty and free markets. The original Cordoba Mosque was founded in what is now Spain after Muslims conquered and occupied the area in the eighth century, and sold much of the local population into slavery.
If the real reason for building this Mosque is a genuine need for one more in a city that already has many, the Muslims could do what Christian churches have had to do all across the nation, find another site.
If New York officials wanted to support the 9-11 survivors and respect national sensibilities they have the authority and could easily find justification within the City’s byzantine zoning regulations to rule against a Mosque in this particular location.