US Catholic Faith in Real Life

One side: Against the mosque

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A political advocate asks not whether the Muslim community center near Ground Zero can be built, but whether it should be built.

By Guest Blogger Michael J. Kerrigan

At the outset, I stipulate that American Muslims who may wish to build a community center near "Ground Zero" are well within their Constitutional rights to do so. Christians, Jews, Mormons, and other religious denominations in the United States support the First Amendment rights of free exercise of religion for all persons in our nation. So building a mosque near Ground Zero is legal. But is it prudent? Or is it a breach of civility?

In spite of our national tolerance for diversity of faith, many believe placing a mosque near Ground Zero is not virtuous, but imprudent. In fact, many consider the act a breach of civility. They think that such an act lacks the virtue of prudence and such behavior lacks civility, namely, consideration for the suffering of other groups who co-exist with Muslims in our melting pot society.

What exactly is the virtue of prudence? It is the ability to use both foresight and insight before acting, so there are no regrets in hindsight. It is the virtue that enables one to consider: What will happen if this act occurs? Is doing this act the "right" thing to do?

Proponents of building the mosque have engaged in name-calling (argumentum ad hominem). They claim that those who disagree with the decision to build are bigots who are intolerant of the Muslim faith. Is this true?

In this particular case, tolerance and respect must be considered from two perspectives: the freedom to exercise religion and the sensitivity due to the relatives and victims of 9/11 and to all U.S. citizens who remain scarred by the wounds of 9/11. Many opponents of building the mosque near Ground Zero are not intolerant of the Muslims' right to exercise religion, they just consider exercising that right at the chosen location a breach of civility.

President Obama missed an opportunity to use commonalities in our diverse religious faiths as a unifying force when he addressed this controversy. Rather than taking sides on Friday evening and reversing sides on Saturday, he could have considered the prudence of the great scholar Rabbi Hillel who taught Jewish followers 2,000 years ago something that is at the very heart of Torah:
"Don't do to your neighbor what you would hate if your neighbor did it to you." That is the essence of civility.

Or he could have taken a lesson from the deceased Pope John Paul II, who strongly suggested to the nuns who wished to build a convent a Auschwitz, notwithstanding the fact that they had the clear legal right to build a convent there, to be prudent and respectful of the millions of Jews who lost their lives at Auschwitz and build a convent at another location. It takes the virtue of prudence to sometimes not exercise your legal rights in order to avoid doing to your neighbor what you yourself would not like done to you.

It is my hope that all groups planning buildings and projects at or near Ground Zero will emulate the civility of two wise religious leaders, Rabbi Hillel and Pope John Paul II.

Must every legal right be exercised, or is it more prudent, at times to give up a legal right in consideration of your neighbor?

Guest blogger Michael J. Kerrigan is a Catholic advocate, author, and public speaker who blogs at Characters with Character.

Guest blog posts express the views of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of U.S. Catholic, its editors, or the Claretians.