The debate over the so-called Ground Zero mosque near the former site of the World Trade Center in New York has raised public interest in, and opposition to, other proposed or recently built mosques and Islamic centers throughout the country.
In areas where Muslim migration or immigration has been significant, some citizens have attempted to discourage construction of new mosques. Few come right out and cite the threat of terrorism; more often they seem to resort to time-honored NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) tactics such as creative interpretation of zoning ordinances, claims of decreased property values, or claims of real or potential problems with traffic, noise, etc.
Before I go any further, I want to make it clear that I understand the need to be vigilant regarding the potential for violent subversion, as well as the dangers of taking such a politically correct approach to militant Islam that people hesitate to report obvious suspicious activity for fear of being labeled bigots (as seems to have happened in the Fort Hood massacre case).
That being said, however, last time I looked the First Amendment was still in effect and the freedom of religion clause applies equally to Christian and non-Christian religions. So any legal measures that might be taken against Muslims or Islamic institutions based on their beliefs or teachings (rather than their actions) have to be weighed very, very carefully, lest those same measures one day be turned against Christians.
Well, it appears that day may have arrived in DuPage County, Illinois, where the County Board, after enduring repeated legal battles over proposed construction of mosques in fast-growing areas of the Chicago suburbs, is reportedly considering a total ban on all new construction of religious or fraternal institutions in unincorporated areas of the county.
You read that right, folks: the board may just decide to flat-out forbid construction of new parishes or synagogues, new parochial or Christian schools, new Knights of Columbus or American Legion halls, etc., as well as new mosques. The ordinance being proposed would allow existing congregations or fraternal organizations to expand current facilities, but would forbid construction of new institutions. The Chicago Tribune has more details at this link:
The proposal does not include religious organizations with pending proposals or religious organizations already located in unincorporated residential areas but looking to expand, said Paul Hoss, zoning coordinator for the county.
The measure would not only cover religious institutions, but also cover fraternal organizations, veterans groups and service clubs, he said.
“It’s not just relative to religious institutions,” Hoss said. “We think that by having other places of assembly in the list makes it nondiscriminatory (for religious institutions).”
If the proposal passes, religious groups could sue under a federal statute that bars governments from imposing land-use regulations that “burden” religious institutions unless they can prove those regulations are the “least restrictive means” of furthering “a compelling governmental interest,” said Sheldon Nahmod, a constitutional law professor at Chicago-Kent College of Law.
Personally I doubt that this ordinance will pass, since it would almost inevitably provoke even more lawsuits, but you never know. Still, the primary purpose of the proposal seems to be just to get the hard-core mosque opponents to stop and think about what they are trying to do, and what would happen if the same rules were applied against them.
Also, we should not forget that there was a time in U.S. history when Catholicism was considered to be nearly or equally as great a threat to national security as Islam is now. Ever heard of the Know Nothing Party, which was a big political force back in the 1850s? They wanted Catholics to be barred from holding public office or from teaching in public schools, on the grounds that their loyalty to a “foreign potentate,” i.e. the pope, made them a potentially subversive force. Or the 1925 Supreme Court case, Pierce vs. Society of Sisters, concerning an Oregon law (backed by the Ku Klux Klan) that essentially outlawed Catholic schools?
We also cannot rule out completely the possibility that Catholicism may once again be treated as a potential terrorist or subversive threat, most likely on the grounds that its teachings against abortion and same-sex marriage constitute “hate speech” or an attack on the civil rights of others. More likely, though, actions against Islam in general may simply lead to a further banishment of all religious expression from the public square, which is exactly what we don’t need.
So add me to the chorus of people on TAC who are saying, just build the damn thing and put the issue behind us.