On Tuesday, August 3, Mayor Bloomberg held what could be a historic press conference to defend the plan to build a mosque just several hundred feet from Ground Zero. He began by recounting a tale of religious tolerance that took place in New York City in the 1650s before progressing to a more relevant issue: private property rights.
“The simple fact is, this building is private property, and the owners have a right to use the building as a house of worship. And the government has no right whatsoever to deny that right.”
You might think it would be difficult to find prominent political commentators – especially from the right – who disagree with the sentiment that government has absolutely no right to prohibit a private organization from using justly acquired private property for whatever lawful purposes they desire. But you would be wrong.
The following night, Bill O’Reilly hosted Dennis Miller on his show. The pair discussed their objections to the construction of the new mosque and Mayor Bloomberg’s comments. From the beginning, the duo completely misinterpreted Bloomberg’s defense of the mosque, and the discussion further divorced itself from reason and coherence as it continued.
I’ll skip over Miller’s opening comments that refer to the supposedly inevitable execution of homosexual Muslims that will occur at that very mosque – which, in addition to its inaccuracy, is something that Miller would struggle to substantiate – and his assertion that “they have decap[itation] on speed dial, down there.” In an attempt to combine three separate metaphors into one pithy zinger, Miller simply sets the precedent for absurd and incoherent arguments made throughout the interview.
Sensing the awkwardness of Miller’s attempt at humor, O’Reilly asserts that the Muslim community is seeking tolerance from their fellow New Yorkers in order to proceed with the construction of their temple. It is not evident that the religious group initially had any intention of seeking religious tolerance from anyone; what they sought was a building permit, and the legal right to maintain property justly acquired. The issue in contention, therefore, is property rights in a country whose Constitution firmly establishes government’s inability to prefer one religion over another. If a Protestant church could be built on that same site, so can a mosque.
It’s rather alarming that a news host drawing millions of nightly viewers, and a self-proclaimed “traditionalist”, can so easily overlook the importance of our founding documents’ emphasis on preventing government from interfering with private interactions, including the acquisition of property. This interview casts considerable doubt on the durability of O’Reilly’s principles and his understanding of limited government. To him, freedom from government control does not apply to those who share, in such proximity as to be distinct in all practical purposes, a loose set of beliefs with fanatics living several thousand miles and 9 years apart.
The host also notes disapprovingly that Bloomberg defines this issue as one of “rights, or freedom of religion,” (and who really needs those, after all) but then purports to pinpoint the reality of all this, that it’s “a sensitivity issue.” Apparently, Bloomberg “just hasn’t thought it out” because he has not yet come to the conclusion that property rights are irrelevant and insignificant in comparison to the more important protections from “insensitive” symbolism.
The separation of church and state relies on the ability of defenders of liberty to disregard the sect of the church involved. The greatness of American government, including the establishment clause and private property rights, is diminished when passion and circumstance outweigh our founding principles. Miller’s claim that Bloomberg’s fear of being “blown up” underlies his defense of the mosque ignores the reasoning actually invoked, one of the bedrock principles on which our founders established this country and distinguished it from almost any other at the time.
Ironically, the construction of a Muslim house of worship two blocks from Ground Zero would be the most powerful rebuke to Islamic fundamentalism, indicating a commitment to economic and theocratic freedom that cannot be infringed upon as a result of religious beliefs or reactionary rhetoric similar to that of Messrs O’Reilly and Miller. The refusal to proceed with construction would squander an invaluable opportunity to demonstrate that, in the land of the free, liberty and religious freedom will ultimately prevail.
Jacob Shmukler was born and raised in Atlanta, GA, graduated from Emory University in 2009, and recently moved to Washington, DC to become a writer/researcher.