Here’s the beginning of my column today:
New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg is some sort of bigot. In a speech about the Ground Zero mosque and religious freedom, Bloomberg stipulated that “it is fair to ask the organizers of the mosque to show some special sensitivity to the situation.”
Why do they, of all the sects represented in New York, have to show “special sensitivity”? Does the mayor demand “special sensitivity” of St. Paul’s Church, the Episcopal parish a few blocks from Ground Zero? And who appointed him arbiter of “special sensitivity”? Where in the First Amendment does it give mayors the power to enjoin builders of churches, synagogues, or mosques to show sensitivity, special or otherwise?
It must be that the mayor harbors a subtle animus toward Muslims that impels him to impinge on their constitutional rights in violation of all that this country holds dear. Or so one would conclude if Mayor Bloomberg’s obtuse hostility to opponents of the Ground Zero mosque were turned against him.
I think this is a key vulnerability of the supporters of the mosque. Mayor Bloomberg apparently thinks it’s necessary that the mosque project build an “inter-faith community” and welcome Jews and Christians. How can he be sure that it will? And what is he going to do if it doesn’t? Interfere with workings of a place of worship? Christopher Hitchens, in a typically bracing piece in favor of the project (or, more accurately, against the critics of it), runs into the same problem. He writes, “We need not automatically assume the good faith of those who have borrowed this noble name [Cordoba] for a project in lower Manhattan. One would want assurances, also, about the transparency of its funding and the content of its educational programs.” So how is he going to ensure this transparency and oversight of its educational content? This is an extraordinary level of government interference in a religious institution, is it not? What Bloomberg and Hitchens implicitly acknowledge is that there is something different about a mosque so close to Ground Zero, and in recognition of that fact, propose a level of scrutiny and oversight that they wouldn’t propose for any other place of worship. And a level of scrutiny and oversight that, we should note, is wholly impractical. At the end of the day, no one is going to enforce these strictures on the mosque. That’s yet another reason to move it elsewhere, where even Bloomberg and Hitchens won’t feel the impulse to meddle in its operations.