Park 51, also known as the “Ground Zero Mosque,” may be the latest victim of zoning tyranny. Zoning takes building decisions that should be made by property owners and turns them into neighborhood popularity contents–or in this case, a national referendum.
Some of the debate around Park 51 deals with the people planning the community center. Opponents are combing through speeches, statements, and previous affiliations, looking for evidence of radicalism. To which I say: Do you really want to do that kind of research before any group erects a structure? Even the Westboro Baptist Church has a building. If you’re going to research every edifice that could harbor radicals, you should start with the all bus shelters where neo-Nazis gather before cleaning up highways.
Opponents will counter that Park 51 deserves special scrutiny. The proposed building would go up only a few blocks away from Ground Zero, so, they claim, we need to make sure terrorist sympathizers don’t congregate nearby. The thing is, that kind of reasoning can be used to stop any community center, anywhere in the country. This isn’t just a slippery slope of my imagination; it’s already happened. A proposed Hindu education center in Missouri has been caught up in a zoning fight for years, with some people objecting to it because they think it’s connected to 9/11. That incident shows that zoning disputes like the one threatening Park 51 aren’t about preserving the sacredness of any particular location. They’re about preventing members of minority religions from building swimming pools and chapels. When the memory of 9/11 can be used to stop a proposed Hindu community center one thousand miles from Manhattan, nobody’s safe.
Filed under: Politics, Religious Freedom, Zoning
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