Volume 23, Number 14 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | August 11 - 17, 2010
Fanning the flames
Three weeks ago we published an editorial, which began “We hope this is the last editorial we will have to write on this subject.” Clearly we were being optimistic.
The Cordoba Initiative’s Park51 community center came to light in our community and will ultimately be a crucial thread in the diverse and accepting fabric of the Lower Manhattan neighborhood. We were out early in support of Community Board 1’s Financial District Committee’s unanimous resolution to support the project and we urged the full board to follow suit, which the board commendably did. Since last week’s unanimous Landmarks and Preservation Commission vote to not landmark 45-47 Park Place, the proposed future home of the Cordoba Initiative’s community center, numerous developments have arisen.
First and foremost we applaud Mayor Bloomberg’s decision to hold a press conference last week, with the Statue of Liberty as a backdrop, where he spoke plainly and clearly on the issue. His remarks addressed elegantly the separation of church and state as it applied to this debate, i.e., that the government should have no role in determining where a people should worship, or where a place of worship should be located. While media outlets everywhere continue to mistakenly use the word “mosque” in a blatant attempt to sensationalize and polarize the debate, and while we choose to purposefully avoid the word, let’s pretend for a moment it is indeed a “13-story mosque.” Our constitution ensures that a mosque could and should be erected anywhere in the country. If the Cordoba Initiative and Soho Properties have the money to build it, let them build it and let their congregation come and worship. That’s both the beauty of our country, now, and the legacy of the men and women who fled religious persecution and traveled to our shores. It’s the foundation, the bedrock, of the United States of America.
In this clear context of the need to keep government out of religious decision-making, it was jarring indeed to hear Governor Paterson this week blunder in the opposite direction, and offer to find state owned land should Cordoba wish to move its community center farther from ground zero. What next? Do we begin offering state owned land to any and every religious institution who wishes to build a new place of worship? Or does this generous offer only extend to the Cordoba Initiative? Be careful governor, or 20 more Cordoba’s might be knocking at your door during you remaining short months in office.
And last, we must address the MTA’s decision to allow Pamela Geller’s group, the Freedom Defense Initiative, to advertise on our city buses what we believe is a sinister message that will only divide and further polarize the debate. While we consider the ad to be inappropriate and reprehensible, we acknowledge it is legal and protected by the First Amendment. But we must point out that the argument all along by the opponents was that locating Park51 so close to hallowed Ground Zero is hurtful and a slap in the face to the victims, survivors and families of 9/11. So what about this advertisement, which contains images of the north tower in flames and a plane about to hit the south tower, across from a rendering of the new community center? Many of the families and survivors of the terrorist attacks themselves asked the media in the months and years following the attacks to use restraint in showing these violent images. They understandably did not want to have to relive that tragic day every time a media outlet wanted to garner higher ratings or a politician tried to tap into the emotionally charged issue for political gain.
Geller herself told us this week the First Amendment is not about protecting ideas we like, but about protecting all ideas. The advertisement is legal, but that is a very low bar. It is only meant to fan the flames, literally, in a gross attempt to exploit 9/11 images to further an anti-Islamic message.