Freedom of Belief is Absolute, Freedom of Practice is not

By Matthew M. Hausman

The proposed Islamic center near Ground Zero has prompted passionate debate about freedom of religion and the open nature of American society. Defenders of the project solemnly intone that the terrorists will win if the mosque is not permitted, although they cannot credibly articulate why. Through all sanctimony, responsibility for tolerance is placed solely on the American public, never on the religious ideology that spawned the 9/11 terrorists. Secular liberals ignore the significance of shrine building at sites of victory over the “infidel” and demure on whether there is any obligation to accommodate non-Muslim sensitivities. They also fail to acknowledge that the conflict between Islamist goals and western culture constitutes a clash of civilizations or recognize that jihad seeks to supplant democratic values with theocratic rule. Omitted from the debate is that freedom of religion is not absolute, and that the rights of one may be limited when they infringe upon the liberties of many. These are the real issues informing the mosque controversy, which liberals – and even some conservatives – refuse to address.

Those who purport to preach tolerance never hesitate to condemn conservative Christians for their views or observant Jews for their supposed formalism. Yet, they refuse to challenge an Islamist ideology that is antithetical to the social ideals they claim to hold dear. Though secular liberals often cite the Constitution to justify their perverse political correctness, the First Amendment does not mandate acquiescence to religious extremism or support for dogmatic institutions. As with other Constitutional rights and privileges, freedom of religion is not absolute, and government has a legitimate interest in monitoring and controlling supremacist ideologies that threaten the rights and liberties of others.

By defining the controversy simply as a dispute over religious freedom, the mosque’s advocates and their secular allies deflect the underlying issues. Through all the charges and accusations, no critic of the mosque has denied that Muslims are free to worship in America. The real issue is one of sensitivity, of respecting the norms and priorities of a host society that throughout its history has welcomed and accommodated a diverse array of religious communities and institutions. Because cries of racism are often used to denigrate those who criticize militant Islam, it is important to recognize that Islam is a religion – it is not defined by race, ethnicity or national origin, and should be accorded no greater rights or privileges than any other belief system in American society. The race card is also used to quell any discussion of the history of Islamist conquest, colonialism and subjugation of non-Muslim peoples. However, such discussion is necessary to determine whether and when government intervention is warranted.

America’s founding fathers conceived of a society balancing individual liberties and communal democratic values. Generations of immigrants were able to embrace American culture without abdicating their ethnic or religious identities because the Constitution respects individual belief and imposes no creed beyond the ideals enumerated within its four corners. Jewish immigrants, for whom ethnicity, belief and practice were inextricably intertwined, were able to adjust culturally because Jewish law specifically provides “dina d’malchuta dina,” or “the law of the land is the law.” That is, one must recognize the ascendancy of the laws of the host society. Supremacist ideologies that threaten democratic ideals and the rights of others are contrary to the law of the land and cannot go unchallenged.

The knee-jerk tendency to label all criticism of the proposed Islamic center as religious intolerance evidences a devastating cultural ignorance and historical amnesia. Newt Gingrich correctly identified the problem not as a war on terrorism or Islam per se, but as a struggle against Islamist radicalism, and succinctly articulated how radicals are surreptitiously using the openness of American society to advance an agenda that is antithetical to its values and freedoms. Despite attempts by apologists to excuse abhorrent conduct under the banner of multiculturalism, government cannot ignore practices that threaten or harm others. There can be no excuse for honor killings, the institutional degradation of women, or the attempt to impose radical views on others in a society that has no established state religion, but which instead respects the beliefs of all.

The First Amendment states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion . . . or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” These two phrases, the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses, are understood to prohibit the establishment of a national religion or the preference of one faith over any other. The first phrase (the “separation clause”) mandates the separation between government and religion, while the second phrase (the “accommodation clause”) provides freedom to worship while preserving the government’s authority to intervene in the religious sphere to protect free exercise. Thus, the exercise of religion is guaranteed as long as it does not interfere with the rights and beliefs of others; and when it does the government has the right to intercede. Because jihad specifically seeks the subjugation of non-Muslims and the death of Muslim heretics, it clearly is incompatible with this Constitutional mandate.

An objective discussion of the theological underpinnings of militant Islam cannot be omitted from the debate no matter how hard the Obama administration attempts to restrict speech on the subject, how obsequiously it attempts to curry favor with the Muslim world at Israel’s expense, or how clearly the President professes his belief in the right to build a mosque at Ground Zero. The reality is that Islamists are not a small minority inhabiting the lunatic fringes of Mideast society, but rather represent a potent force that is dedicated to jihad and which truly believes in the obligation to maintain a state of war against the “infidels” until Islamist hegemony is complete.

It is not hyperbole to define the struggle represented by jihad as a “clash of civilizations” or to say that Islamist supremacism is contrary to a free society. Interestingly, this is not the first time the United States has been confronted with this conflict, which – although relegated to the collective national subconscious – was part of the early American experience. Evidence of America’s first brush with Islamist militancy can be found in the Marine Corps. Hymn, which begins with the verse: “From the Halls of Montezuma, to the shores of Tripoli.”

These lyrics allude to the First and Second Barbary Wars, which were precipitated by the hostile acts of Muslim-Arab pirates from the Barbary Coast of North Africa who, without provocation, attacked and ransomed ships from Europe and the United States. In March 1785, years before the formal declaration of war, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams travelled to London to meet with the envoy from Tripoli, Sidi Haji Abdrahaman, to discuss why the Barbary Arabs were engaging in unprovoked acts of war with nonbelligerent nations. By way of explanation, Ambassador Abdrahaman told them:

    It was written in their Koran, that all nations which had not acknowledged the Prophet were sinners, whom it was the right and duty of the faithful to plunder and enslave; and that every muslim who was slain in this warfare was sure to go to paradise. He said, also, that the man who was the first to board a vessel had one slave over and above his share, and that when they sprang to the deck of an enemy’s ship, every sailor held a dagger in each hand and a third in his mouth; which usually struck such terror into the foe that they cried out for quarter at once.

    (“Jefferson, American Minister in France,” p. 413, The Atlantic Monthly, Volume 30, Issue 180, October 1872.)

The United States paid up to $1 million annually to ensure safe passage until 1801, when Jefferson’s refusal to continue paying tribute prompted the Pasha of Algiers, Yusuf Karamanli, to declare war. Although the First Barbary War ended with a hudna, the pattern of piracy and tribute continued until the Second Barbary War in 1815, which culminated in the U.S. naval bombardment of Algiers.

Since Mohammed burst forth from the Arabian Peninsula in the Seventh Century C.E., religious chauvinism has dictated jihadist relations with non-Muslims, with the ultimate goal being conversion through cajolery or force, or in the alternative, subjugation or death. In expanding the boundaries of their dominion, Muslim holy warriors laid to waste the monuments and sacred places of non-Islamic cultures, often using as building materials the rubble of the temples, churches, synagogues and cemeteries they destroyed. The magnitude of the destruction visited upon the Hindu population of India affected Indian society for generations. Characteristic of the abject disregard for native culture and belief, the first mosque in India is believed to have been built on the site of an ancient Jain temple. Similarly, Muslim conquerors converted churches to mosques as they overran greater areas of Christian Europe – well before the Crusades – and built mosques over Jewish holy sites, including the cave of Machpelah, Rachel’s Tomb and, most significantly, the standing remains of the Temple in Jerusalem.

The Dome of the Rock was not built in Jerusalem because the city had any special significance in Islamic tradition. Indeed, the Quran contains no mention of the ancient Jewish capital. Rather, the mosque in Jerusalem was built to show that the Jews had been subjugated and were now considered dhimmi in their own land. The motive for constructing the Mosque of Omar on the Temple Mount was the same as that compelling Umayyad Caliph al-Walid to rebuild the Church of St. John in Damascus as a Mosque in the year 705, and prompting the Taliban to destroy ancient Buddhist shrines in Afghanistan in 2001. Indeed, it is legitimate to ask whether the same motivation now compels the efforts to build an Islamic center near Ground Zero, particularly in light of the mystery shrouding the sources of its funding.

Given the jihadist history of appropriating the sacred places of non-Muslims, the proposed Islamic center’s proximity to the site of the World Trade Center cannot be overlooked. In the eyes of many, permitting the construction of such a facility so close to the site of such devastation would be tantamount to acquiescing to the planting of an enemy’s victory banner at a military cemetery where the battle dead are buried. Secular and liberal advocates of the mosque ignore the historical context against which these efforts should be evaluated, and seem unfamiliar with the concept of taqiyya, or dissimulation, which sanctions the use of deception to induce “infidels” to lower their guard in order to facilitate their own defeat. Instead, these advocates justify their support by claiming that Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf is a moderate influence capable of improving

American relations with Muslim world. However, it is difficult to conclude from the public record whether he is truly a moderate.
Although no one can be certain what is in the mind of another, Rauf’s public statements, as well as his silences, would appear to be inconsistent with claims of moderation. Shortly after the carnage of 9/11, he was quoted as stating that U.S. policies in the Muslim world were “an accessory to the crime that happened.” In a recent interview, Rauf refused to identify Hamas or the Muslim Brotherhood as terrorist organizations, and he has also been quoted as stating that America has “… more Muslim blood on its hands than al Qaida has on its hands of innocent non-Muslims.” These hardly seem to be the views of moderation. Consequently, Rauf’s motives in proposing a mosque near Ground Zero, and those of his financial backers, are certainly open to question.

For all the talk about Rauf’s supposed moderation, the mosque’s advocates never address whether proponents of Sharia law are involved in the project. This is a fair question because it is not clear that anybody who supports imposing Sharia in the West could be considered moderate. This view is apparently shared by “Muslims Against Sharia,” a reform group whose manifesto states, among other things, the following:

    The Need for Reform

    Islam, in its present form, is not compatible with principles of freedom and democracy. Twenty-first century Muslims have two options: we can continue the barbaric policies of the seventh century perpetuated by Hassan al-Banna, Abdullah Azzam, Yassir Arafat, Ruhollah Khomeini, Osama bin Laden, Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaeda, Hizballah, Hamas, Hizb-ut-Tahrir, etc., leading to a global war between Dar al-Islam (Islamic World) and Dar al-Harb (non-Islamic World), or we can reform Islam to keep our rich cultural heritage and to cleanse our religion from the reviled relics of the past. We, as Muslims who desire to live in harmony with people of other religions, agnostics, and atheists choose the latter option. We can no longer allow Islamic extremists to use our religion as a weapon. We must protect future generations of Muslims from being brainwashed by the Islamic radicals. If we do not stop the spread of Islamic fundamentalism, our children will become homicidal zombies.
    . . .

    Islam is one of the many of the world’s religions. There will be no Peace and Harmony in the World if Muslims and non-Muslims do not have equal rights. Islamic supremacy doctrine is just as repulsive as Aryan supremacy doctrine. History clearly shows what happens to the society whose members consider themselves above other peoples. All moderate Muslims must repudiate the mere notion of Islamic supremacy.
    . . .

    Sharia Law must be abolished, because it is incompatible with norms of modern society.
    . . .
    Outdated practices

    Any practices that might have been acceptable in the Seventh Century; i.e., stoning, cutting off body parts, marrying and/or having sex with children or animals, must be condemned by every Muslim . . .

    (The full text can be found at

One has to wonder whether the building of a mosque at Ground Zero would be considered moderate by such a reform group.

It is curious that liberal supporters of the proposed Islamic center, including Nancy Pelosi, are among the first to shout their commitment to freedom of religion despite their generalized contempt for any perceived encroachment of religion into secular society. They condemn the Mormon Church for sponsoring the “California Marriage Protection Act” in opposition to same-sex marriage, deride fundamentalist Christians for opposing abortion, and promote a secular statism in which religious expression is marginalized. Yet, they are concerned that any inquiry into the motivation for the Ground Zero Mosque will offend Muslim sensibilities. Mormons and Fundamentalists can certainly be criticized for taking sides in public controversies – that’s the nature of American politics. Should Muslims be regarded any differently? If the government can reasonably limit how other religious communities can use property or express themselves when public safety and welfare are threatened, how do liberal advocates justify not applying the same standards when discussing Islamism?

Religious organizations are not immune from government regulation. When a religious institution applies for zoning or building approval, for example, it is subjected to the same process as any other petitioner. The application is vetted at an open hearing where the public has the right to comment, after which it can be denied for any number of reasons, including traffic concerns, the need to preserve architectural integrity, or even fear of changes to neighborhood character. Simply because an application is filed by a religious institution does not guarantee that it will be granted.

Moreover, the government’s regulatory authority is not limited to land use enforcement. Religious practice itself may be monitored or regulated when public health and welfare are threatened. Consider for example fundamentalist sects that incorporate venomous snake-bite rituals based on a Christian scriptural verse stating that believers “shall take up serpents.” States outlawing the sale and use of poisonous snakes for this purpose have been upheld by the Supreme Court. Likewise, Christian Scientists can be arrested, tried and convicted for causing the deaths of diabetic children by withholding insulin treatments – as can Jehovah’s Witnesses for refusing blood transfusions for minors – and religious polygamists can be arrested under statutory rape laws. The government can even use force against religious groups that take up arms, as it did with the militant Branch Davidian sect in Waco, Texas. Even something as innocuous as a Lag B’Omer bonfire is subject to municipal fire regulations and permit requirements.

Thus, while the First Amendment mandates freedom of worship, it does not grant religious organizations unfettered property rights or the ability to act indiscriminately without regard for others. This is not to say that the government can restrain religious thought. It cannot and it should not. However, there has to be a balance between the right to worship and the need to regulate practices that are dangerous or deeply offensive to persons affected by the exercise of those practices. Even the late Pope John Paul conceded as much when he recognized that the presence of a Carmelite convent at Auschwitz was offensive to Jewish sensibilities and had to be removed. Significantly, he did so even after initially appearing to endorse the nuns’ presence by performing a mass there. And so it should be with a proposed mosque near the scene of terrorist devastation perpetrated by Islamists in the name of religion.

Although the founding fathers clearly envisioned the inclusion of all faiths in American society, this vision did not contemplate the coddling of religious radicals who seek to impose their will and who respect no authority but their own. The concept of jihad is antithetical to American democratic ideals, and may pose a greater threat to society than did communism or anarchism during the last century. Reasonable minds can debate the fairness of government anti-communist measures during the 1950s or Woodrow Wilson’s jailing of political dissidents during World War I. However, there is no dispute that government has the authority to curtail speech, assembly and even religious expression during times of crisis or emergency. Given its growing influence and association with terrorism, there is little doubt that Islamist radicalism constitutes a serious threat today; and this should be the crux of the debate over the Ground Zero mosque.

Although it may be true that not all Muslims condoned the bombing of the Twin Towers, there was no outpouring of condemnation from the Arab-Muslim world after the deadly assault. On the contrary, many cheered the attacks, while others attributed them to a Jewish conspiracy, and still others justified them based on perceived offenses against Islam by America and the West. Thus, it is perfectly reasonable to question whether the mosque’s proponents stand with western values, or with an ideology that contravenes and seeks to destroy those values. The stakes are indeed high.

Even if the attacks were approved by only a small segment of the Muslim world, the people of New York – and indeed all Americans – are entitled to maintain the integrity and dignity of their sacred space. If those who support the Islamic center are truly committed to democratic principles, they could demonstrate their commitment by recognizing that their efforts are provocative, condemning Islamist terrorism without qualification, fully disclosing where their funding comes from, and agreeing not to build there. However, considering their reluctance to denounce Islamist terrorism, and the enabling of the situation by liberal pundits and left-wing ideologues, the mosque’s proponents have little incentive to assuage those who wish to preserve sanctity of place at Ground Zero. And the failure to speak true words of moderation only reinforces concern that the controversy implicates a broader agenda for the advancement of fundamentalist extremism in the United States.

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September 3, 2010 | 4 Comments »

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4 Comments / 4 Comments

  1. Its just like so called Freedom of Speach. All Freedon of Speach means is that you have the freedom to express your views but if they are not in line with the status quo then you may be silenced.

  2. Many Muslims, many on the liberal left, Mayor Bloomberg, Charlie Wrangle, Obama and other politicians and activists give their very vocal support the Cordoba House project and its location.

    All these people would do well to read Matthew Hausman’s excellent broad and insightful analysis of the issues to gain an insight that they are for now blind or worse still, willfully blind to.

    I have my doubts however, that many of them, sensing Hausman’s views challenge their bottom line views, would bother to read his article.

    Furthermore, one needs time and patience to read, absorb and consider Hausman’s article.

    For many, regardless of where they are on the political spectrum, time and patience seem to be in short supply.

    It seems that many, in varying degrees are satisfied to just rely on headlines, lead paragraphs and brief radio and TV soundbite news reportings for their information base. For many, they are satisfied, without much thought given, to also adopt the soundbite opinions of media pundits on specific issues that seem to accord with their own general social/political perceptions.

    You might call this phenomenon, a culturally cultivated condition of Attention Deficit Disorder.

    Hausman’s article, like so many others he and other great writers have penned are valuable reads regardless of what side of the issue one is on. If only….

  3. I believe most of the Founding Fathers of America were Free Masons. They believed in God, but not in organized religion. I think this was a result of the English civil wars, c. 1500s, when in England and France millions of people were killed when Catholics fought Protestants, popes fought kings, royalists fought Puritans, all trying to take power. Many of the first immigrants to America were refugees from these wars, including my mother’s family who came to America in the 1600s. While no doubt familiar with Christian views, one of the Founding Fathers’s goals was to prevent religious wars from coming to the shores of America. Ben Franklin, for example, at one time or another, attended and donated to every religious house of worship, including synagogues, in Philadelphia. At his funeral, all these denominations lined up in the street to be part of his funeral cortege.

    This was a very informative article.

  4. Dear Mr Hausman, while I agree 100% with the thrust and point of your comments, I must take issue with one statement. Where do you find the word “separation”, much less “The Separation Clause” in the first line, (or anywhere else), of the First Amendment? I have only recently discovered that, much to my astonishment, no such phrase, no such suggestion, no such idea or implication as “separation of church and state’ exists in the United States Constitution. Yes, I know, this generation was raised to believe otherwise. In fact, idea of the “separation of church and state” began erroneously to be adopted as a result of a phrase taken out of the context of a personal and private response written by Thomas Jefferson to a committee of the Danbury Baptist Association in which he states: “Believing with you that religion is a matter that lies solely between man and his God; that he owes account to no none other for his faith or his worship; that the legislative powers of the government reach actions only, not opinions, – I contemplate with sovereign reference that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between church and state.””

    Roughly a hundred years ago historians and commentators began to accredit Jefferson as an author of our constitution when in fact Jefferson was in France throughout the creation of that document and had no part in its writing. As he himself stated, “I…never saw it till after it was established.” I further contend that Jefferson and Paine, of all our founding fathers, were the only ones who were not devout Christians. Therefore, the intent of Jefferson’s comment cannot be implied into it’s meaning as the intent of its authors. I contend, therefore, that our recent courts are erroneous in current interpretations.

    When I was young prayer was very much allowed in our public schools. It was not until the 1960s that the vitriolic Madeline O’Hare brought us to this current ban of all public displays and practices of our faith.

    But to get back to the mosque you will find this more in keeping with your views: According to an 1878 court ruling, ( Reynolds vs the United States), the court summarized even Jefferson’s meaning as, “The rightful purposes of civil government are for its officers to interfere (only) when (religious) principles break out into overt acts against peace and good order.” This certainly applies to Sheria Law. And being aware of the Cordoba in Spain and the Dome of the Rock mosque, I hardly think that the intent of a mosque called the Cordoba House at the site of 9-11 could be intended for any other “religious” purposes than a proclamation of victory, a monument commemorating the death and destruction inflicted on my people and a means of furthering their evil jihadist intent.