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Mayor Bloomberg Gives Stirring Defense of Religious Freedom

I haven’t been the biggest fan of Michael Bloomberg, but I have to commend him for his stance on the Park 51 Cordoba Center and Mosque. It wasn’t easy.

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Michael Bloomberg delivers stirring defense of mosque

by Justin Elliot

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has emerged as the unlikely but passionate defender of the planned Muslim community center near ground zero, today traveled to Governors Island off the tip of Lower Manhattan to deliver a stirring plea for sanity in what he called “[as] important a test of the separation of church and state as we may see in our lifetimes.”

The Daily News’ Adam Lisberg reports that Bloomberg choked up at one point as he delivered the speech surrounded by religious leaders of different faiths, with the Statue of Liberty in the background.

Rather than attack the bigotry of the opponents of the so-called “ground zero mosque,” Bloomberg made several positive arguments for building the center. He traced the struggle for religious freedom in New York and affirmed the rights of citizens to do as they please with their private property:

The simple fact is, this building is private property, and the owners have a right to use the building as a house of worship, and the government has no right whatsoever to deny that right. And if it were tried, the courts would almost certainly strike it down as a violation of the U.S. Constitution.

Whatever you may think of the proposed mosque and community center, lost in the heat of the debate has been a basic question: Should government attempt to deny private citizens the right to build a house of worship on private property based on their particular religion? That may happen in other countries, but we should never allow it to happen here.

It’s worth noting that three Jewish leaders  — Rabbi Bob Kaplan from the Jewish Community Council, Rabbi Irwin Kula from the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, and Cara Berkowitz from the UJA Federation — were present with Bloomberg during the speech, despite the Anti-Defamation League’s opposition to the project. Below is the full text. Video of the speech is here.

“We’ve come here to Governors Island to stand where the earliest settlers first set foot in New Amsterdam, and where the seeds of religious tolerance were first planted. We come here to see the inspiring symbol of liberty that more than 250 years later would greet millions of immigrants in this harbor. And we come here to state as strongly as ever, this is the freest city in the world. That’s what makes New York special and different and strong.

“Our doors are open to everyone. Everyone with a dream and a willingness to work hard and play by the rules. New York City was built by immigrants, and it’s sustained by immigrants — by people from more than 100 different countries speaking more than 200 different languages and professing every faith. And whether your parents were born here or you came here yesterday, you are a New Yorker.

“We may not always agree with every one of our neighbors. That’s life. And it’s part of living in such a diverse and dense city. But we also recognize that part of being a New Yorker is living with your neighbors in mutual respect and tolerance. It was exactly that spirit of openness and acceptance that was attacked on 9/11, 2001.

“On that day, 3,000 people were killed because some murderous fanatics didn’t want us to enjoy the freedoms to profess our own faiths, to speak our own minds, to follow our own dreams, and to live our own lives. Of all our precious freedoms, the most important may be the freedom to worship as we wish. And it is a freedom that even here — in a city that is rooted in Dutch tolerance — was hard-won over many years.

“In the mid-1650s, the small Jewish community living in lower Manhattan petitioned Dutch governor Peter Stuyvesant for the right to build a synagogue, and they were turned down. In 1657, when Stuyvesant also prohibited Quakers from holding meetings, a group of non-Quakers in Queens signed the Flushing Remonstrance, a petition in defense of the right of Quakers and others to freely practice their religion. It was perhaps the first formal political petition for religious freedom in the American colonies, and the organizer was thrown in jail and then banished from New Amsterdam.

“In the 1700s, even as religious freedom took hold in America, Catholics in New York were effectively prohibited from practicing their religion, and priests could be arrested. Largely as a result, the first Catholic parish in New York City was not established until the 1780s, St. Peter’s on Barclay Street, which still stands just one block north of the World Trade Center site, and one block south of the proposed mosque and community center.

“This morning, the city’s Landmark Preservation Commission unanimously voted to extend — not to extend — landmark status to the building on Park Place where the mosque and community center are planned. The decision was based solely on the fact that there was little architectural significance to the building. But with or without landmark designation, there is nothing in the law that would prevent the owners from opening a mosque within the existing building.

“The simple fact is, this building is private property, and the owners have a right to use the building as a house of worship, and the government has no right whatsoever to deny that right. And if it were tried, the courts would almost certainly strike it down as a violation of the U.S. Constitution.

“Whatever you may think of the proposed mosque and community center, lost in the heat of the debate has been a basic question: Should government attempt to deny private citizens the right to build a house of worship on private property based on their particular religion? That may happen in other countries, but we should never allow it to happen here.

“This nation was founded on the principle that the government must never choose between religions or favor one over another. The World Trade Center site will forever hold a special place in our city, in our hearts. But we would be untrue to the best part of ourselves and who we are as New Yorkers and Americans if we said no to a mosque in lower Manhattan.

“Let us not forget that Muslims were among those murdered on 9/11, and that our Muslim neighbors grieved with us as New Yorkers and as Americans. We would betray our values and play into our enemies’ hands if we were to treat Muslims differently than anyone else. In fact, to cave to popular sentiment would be to hand a victory to the terrorists, and we should not stand for that.

“For that reason, I believe that this is an important test of the separation of church and state as we may see in our lifetimes, as important a test. And it is critically important that we get it right.

“On Sept. 11, 2001, thousands of first responders heroically rushed to the scene and saved tens of thousands of lives. More than 400 of those first responders did not make it out alive. In rushing into those burning buildings, not one of them asked, ‘What God do you pray to?’ (Bloomberg’s voice cracks here a little as he gets choked up.) ‘What beliefs do you hold?’

“The attack was an act of war, and our first responders defended not only our city, but our country and our constitution. We do not honor their lives by denying the very constitutional rights they died protecting. We honor their lives by defending those rights and the freedoms that the terrorists attacked.

“Of course, it is fair to ask the organizers of the mosque to show some special sensitivity to the situation, and in fact their plan envisions reaching beyond their walls and building an interfaith community. But doing so, it is my hope that the mosque will help to bring our city even closer together, and help repudiate the false and repugnant idea that the attacks of 9/11 were in any ways consistent with Islam.

“Muslims are as much a part of our city and our country as the people of any faith. And they are as welcome to worship in lower Manhattan as any other group. In fact, they have been worshipping at the site for better, the better part of a year, as is their right. The local community board in lower Manhattan voted overwhelmingly to support the proposal. And if it moves forward, I expect the community center and mosque will add to the life and vitality of the neighborhood and the entire city.

“Political controversies come and go, but our values and our traditions endure, and there is no neighborhood in this city that is off-limits to God’s love and mercy, as the religious leaders here with us can attest.”

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  • ‘NYT,’ Bloomberg, Lehrer lead mainstream stampede in support of mosque
    mondoweiss.net/2010/08/nyt-bloomberg-lehrer-lead-mainstream-stampede-in-support-of-mosque.html
    The weather is changing. Obama has at last crept out on the limb of supporting the mosque in downtown New York. The liberal media are preparing the ground for him. The other day Brian Lehrer of WNYC (whom I assailed repeatedly for the interview he did grilling the wife of the imam of the mosque near Ground Zero), shifted his tone and told listeners that there is no connection between the mosque and terrorist groups. Good for him.

    And Michael Barbaro of the Times has a very good piece on Mayor Bloomberg’s decision to stick by the mosque in spite of flak from his own base. The piece is notable for the warm and fuzzy tone it takes re Debbie Almontaser, the educator whom Bloomberg abandoned 3 years ago, during the Khalil Gibran academy flap, and for its insistence that Bloomberg was sensitized by anti-Semitic housing discrimination in Medford, Mass., where he grew up.

    Those claims [re the mosque and terror] infuriated Mr. Bloomberg, in no small part, those close to him say, because of his own family’s brush with prejudice when his parents shielded their identity from the seller of their house in Medford, Mass., a town where entire neighborhoods were still off limits to Jews.

    Mr. Bloomberg’s instinctive discomfort with the nature and tenor of the growing debate about the center moved him to seek the counsel of others he trusted.

    A few weeks ago, he approached an adviser on Muslim issues, Fatima A. Shama, a Palestinian-American who is his commissioner of immigrant affairs. He asked what she thought of the project.

    Ms. Shama framed the issue in personal terms: she has three sons, she told the mayor, but there is no place in the city for them to share their Muslim faith with their Jewish and Christian friends.

    “This could be that place,” Ms. Shama told Mr. Bloomberg.

  • Elaine

    A question for Emperor who posted this article;

    First I want to say I hope that the mosques is built. Good truly will triumph over evil if it happens, but I wonder if you know why the builders of the mosque will not reveal the source of their funds. Or is that even true ?
    I understand that quite often donations to mosques are done anonymously. Would that be the reason ? Or have they received donations from a source that some might try to object to ?
    I really do just want to hear a response from the proponents of the mosque.

  • Biz

    Now that is what I expect from the mayor of my city. Nice job Mayor Bloomberg!

  • Eli
  • Islamoflubbia
    http://mondoweiss.net/2010/08/islamoflubbia.html
    by Philip Weiss on August 7, 2010

    As we say in my religion, What goes around comes around.

    –Fareed Zakaria returns $10,000 and a plaque and an award to the ADL after its bigoted response to the mosque in Manhattan.

    http://mondoweiss.net/2010/08/islamoflubbia.html

  • Ryan

    lawrence. IT’s not a mosque. Obama is loyal, and bloomberg does care. Islam is against terrorism. But give Foxman his due. He does have some admirable qualities and is nowhere near is horrible as spencer or geller.

  • froger29

    Good ole Lawrence, giving a lecture on decency

  • Sam Seed

    Well said, a brave man indeed. Like it says in the Quran , ‘Tell the truth even if it is against you’.Wish there were more like him, to stand against the extremists and hardlined bigots.

  • Adam

    Hy lawrence, if it’s such salt on the qounds of america, why the hell didn’t your group start protesting this?

    http://www.salon.com/news/politics/war_room/index.html?story=%2Fpolitics%2Fwar_room%2F2010%2F08%2F05%2Fmuslims_infiltrate_pentagon

  • Adam

    Anyone gimme some info on this ‘debra’ lady? She apparently is a widow or mother of one of the victims, and spoke on fox news against the mosque? Very islamaphobic, saying the muslims who died in the trade center towers were secular muslims, and that islam attacekd america.

    Anyone on loonwatch want to make a loon profile to her?

  • Thank youuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu Mayor Bloomberg, wonderful speech. Someone has the courage to say it like it is.

    I hope American Muslims will write, or email and thank him for sticking to his guns.

    I also think this incident proved the hypocricy of the ADL leader, Abe Foxman, who opposed the mosque and that American Muslims should make their displeasure known. How can Foxman claim to fight anti-semitism when he supports Islamophobes? That is hypocricy and doesn’t do his credibility any good. Next time he cries for Jewish rights people should remind him of his own stance to another minority in the USA. His actions were a disgrace.

    Bloomberg on the other hand, came out shining.

    BLOOMBERG FOR POTUS

  • stephen walt says it perfectly at his blog at

    http://walt.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2010/08/05/short_takes_bloomberg_on_the_ground_zero_mosque_the_celtics_and_iran
    Short takes: Bloomberg on the Ground Zero mosque, the Celtics, and Iran
    Posted By Stephen M. Walt Thursday, August 5, 2010 – 11:49 AM Share

    Bloomberg nails it.
    If you haven’t done so already, you really owe it to yourself to read or watch N.Y. Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s compelling response to those who objected to the construction of a Muslim center in lower Manhattan. The contrast between Bloomberg’s eloquent and reasoned defense of religious freedom and the hypocritical bombast of the Gingriches, Giulianis, and Foxmans tells you all you need to know about who gets what America stands for and who doesn’t.

  • Bloomberg is like a Whore who sleeps with the future assassin of her husband for kicks.He only loves money and power and cares a damn about America which gave him all that he owns.Any country that has a substantial number of Muslims suffers the side effect of terrorism.Islam and Terrorism are the two sides of the same coin.Like Hussein Obama ,Bloomberg will also face the wrath of ELECTORS in the next election.They are both disloyal citizens .Muslims should have had the decency and sensitivity to avoid this projected Mosque which will leave permanent wounds like 9/11.It is like rubbing salt into the wounds of American public and the Muslims are going to pay a heavy price in future.

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  • Lena Rose

    I think he went out of his way with this one, bringing up some issues that he didn’t absolutely have to, but that really help with improving understanding. I was impressed with the whole speech, but a couple of points especially:

    1) Putting it in context with the struggle of other minority groups to be accepted as equal and full Americans. This is crucial. People seem to think Muslims are the first group they were ever afraid of, the first group they thought was too “different” to ever fit in, the first group they ever considered a threat based on collective guilt. Just 30 years ago some people still felt similarly about Jews — now they say the country was founded on “Judeo-Christian” values!

    2) Correctly distancing Islam from 9/11 — Muslims everywhere, especially in America, should not be punished for an act by people from other countries who had no connection to us. It is good to hear the mayor of NYC say it so unequivocally.

  • Lilly

    Wonderful speech!! Still.. it’s too bad that people are suing to have a re-vote on the buildings status…. and both the candidates that I’m aware of that will be running next term are against Islamic growth….

  • Mindy1

    Bravo-great speech 😀

  • nat

    Wow. Heart soars.

  • JustAFan

    Well spoken mayor Bloomberg!

  • Les

    “and help repudiate the false and repugnant idea that the attacks of 9/11 were in any ways consistent with Islam.”

    Nice touch, Mayor. 😉

    Great speech! We need more of this.

  • marco

    Bravo. What a speech that was. Definitely speech of the year if such an award was to be given.

  • Justin

    Great speech! Great post!

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