Surly by now you have heard about the proposal to construct an Islamic Mosque and cultural center near to the Ground Zero site in New York City. The proposal has passed a litany of hurdles already, and garnered the approval of both Mayor Michael Bloomburg and President Obama. Yet, many still have strong emotions and feelings against such a structure citing its lack of sensitivity to the catastrophe that took place there.
9/11 Families for a Safe & Strong America say of proposed Cordoba House that “a gross insult to the memory of those who were killed on that terrible day.’’ Yet, the proposed project was endorsed by Community Board No. 1 in lower Manhattan by a near unanimous vote in May.
This situation seems to necessitate me, as a Freemason, to look at it from the point of view of Anderson’s Constitution.
But though in ancient times Masons were charg’d in every Country to be of the Religion of that Country or Nation, whatever it was, yet ’tis now thought more expedient only to oblige them to that Religion in which all Men agree, leaving their particular Opinions to themselves; that is, to be good Men and true, or Men of Honour and Honesty, by whatever Denominations or Persuasions they may be distinguish’d; whereby Masonry becomes the Center of Union, and the Means of conciliating true Friendship among Persons that must have remain’d at a perpetual Distance.
In the present context, the religion of the country is at first a challenge to find consensus, most would say that the U.S. is a Christian country. But, this becomes less the issue when we look at the Bill of Rights and the First amendment that says:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;
But this doesn’t tackle the issue of respect towards others feelings towards the proximity of the place of worship to the hallowed ground of 9/11.
It seems that this would be an excellent opportunity (Masonic or otherwise) for other faiths to partner and remold the idea of the Cordoba House into a place of Interfaith union.
This is a far stretch from its original intent of improving Muslim Relations with the West (which is off to a rough foot so close to Ground Zero) but in creating an interfaith temple it would provide a means to interact with all faith groups, to interact with the hallowed space of ground zero, and still be a focused point in the community to engage and broaden relationships, not just with Islamic groups and the west, but with all groups.
Truly, this would be a Historic Narrative.
In the mean time, the debate on the project goes on, and voices from both sides of the argument insist on being heard going so far as to demand the Federal government block the proposed construction because of its proximity to the site (never mind that there is a strip club a mere three blocks away). From Sarah Palin on Facebook to 40 prominnent Religious Leaders supporting its construction, lots of voices vying to be heard. At the heart of the matter is the construction of a Islamic temple in such close proximity to a site attacked in the name of Islam.
Is the opposition to Cordoba House just opposition to religious freedom, or is it more specific to opposition to the Muslim temple itself? Is it a gross insult to place it so close to Ground Zero, or should alternatives be considered? As a Freemason, can we apply the ideas of Anderson and look at it from the perspective of the ‘Religion in which all Men agree’ and allow religious freedom to dictate?