The Tenth Anniversary of 9-11 is an ideal moment to recall Mayor Bloomberg’s August, 2010, speech defending the decision of the New York Landmarks Preservation Commission to authorize construction of a mosque and community center a couple of blocks from Ground Zero, against strident opposition from a few:
“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 as important a 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.”
This is less than half the speech. The whole thing is here. It will stand the test of time, I predict, as among the most terse and compelling expositions of religious liberty ever composed, ranking along side Thomas Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists in 1801 and John F. Kennedy’s speech on politics and religion in 1960.
To Mayor Bloomberg’s comments, compare the immoderate remarks about the interfaith service commemorating Sept. 11 made by the self-anointed spokesmen for that subset of Evangelical Christianity with the chronic anger problem. Bloomberg speaks of an America where people of all faiths join to defend a house of worship under attack by forces of intolerance, as in this account by an American Muslim whose mosque was defaced on the day after 9-11, and protected the following week by non-Muslims who stood in a protective circle around it. Is this a great country or what?