When I heard about the "split" in the Democratic party between Harry Reid and President Obama regarding the building of the mosque near Ground Zero, and as I listened to Senator Reid voice his objections to the mosque, my first thought was that the Senator should know better.
While tight elections often give rise to such craven political pandering, Harry Reid is a member of a faith that is barely a generation out of religious persecution itself -- a faith that is not one-fifth as old as Islam, and whose adherents have at times embraced both racial segregation (prior to 1978, Mormons did not allow African-Americans to be ordained to the priesthood) and the taking up of arms against the United States government.
Indeed, 144 years before the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center - but also, coincidentally, on September 11 - over 100 American settlers (including unarmed men, women and children) were killed by Mormon militiamen who were then engaged in open rebellion against the United States.
I mean neither to disparage Mormons, nor to advance prophetic conspiracy theories about the historical significance of September 11, nor to play the numbers game about how many people have died at the hands of various religious adherents. Nor am I suggesting that we adopt an ostrich in the sand approach regarding the dangers posed by Islamic extremism (including the extremists among our ostensible "allies," the Saudis).
I note only that we walk a very slippery slope when we begin to conflate the lunatics on the fringe with law abiding believers of any faith - and the insult that is being perpetrated upon our American-Muslim countrymen (many of whom have taken up arms for this country in the course of the two wars in which we are now engaged) is something that should give us all pause.
Among this country's foundational principles is the notion that those of minority (and sometimes unpopular) faiths are entitled to the free expression of their faith without being unfairly targeted or singled out for discriminatory treatment by the government. I would hope that we would be as committed to that principle in 2010 as we were at the time of the country's founding.
I recently had a conversation with an opponent of the mosque (whose construction is near Ground Zero and not actually on the site - another interesting confusion of facts in which its detractors have continued to engage) who, after comparing the mosque to a casino and arguing that "religious freedom" was not at issue, sought to reassure viewers that she was not in favor of tearing down Islamic houses of worship.
Well, that is certainly a big relief. Good to know that in the United States of America we've drawn the line at burning down the places where people choose to pray.
I think we would all agree, however, that our standards should be a bit higher.
Originally published on Huffington Post; republished with permission of the author.