. . . One in Utica, NY . . . The other proposed for New York City.
The Utica mosque was started in 2008 -- a transformation of the former Central Methodist Church. This went on with hardly a raised eyebrow. Today its appearance has completely changed, being faced with light and dark gray stucco with an added minaret . . . literally towering over the Utica City Hall next door.
The mosque has been and is a welcome addition to Utica. Uticans can be happy that an historic landmark has been saved. . . . Members of the former Methodist Church are happy that a building that housed many memories for them would continue to exist with its life as a house of worship (although a different religion) continued. The new mosque symbolizes an acceptance and integration of former Bosnian refugees into Utica and our American way of life. We are one people out of many.
The Utica mosque is something we all can be proud of for what it symbolizes about Utica and America. . . . We welcome newcomers, we recognize the importance of Faith in our community and our country, and we adhere to our Constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion.
Then there is the $100 million mosque proposed for two blocks from the former site of the World Trade Center in New York City. It has been intensely debated in New York, locally, and nationally. Prominent politicians including President Obama, Andrew Cuomo, and Mayor Bloomberg have come out in favor of the mosque, citing the US Constitution's First Amendment guarantee of freedom of religion.
The majority of Americans, however, are opposed. Some politicians, perhaps sensing the political wind, are opposed. Is the majority wrong? Are the opposing politicians succumbing to mob rule?
Many are torn over this issue. People who are committed to all that America stands for feel a bit guilty for not wanting this mosque to be built . . . but they know that something feels wrong, yet they can't quite put their finger on it.
The key is that freedom of religion, like the freedom of speech also guaranteed under the First Amendment, has its limits. The Constitution is not a license to commit a civil wrong -- a tort -- a breach of duty owed to society. The human sacrifices of ancient Aztec religion can be constitutionally prohibited. Harassing phone calls can be constitutionally enjoined.
People intuitively know that the proposed mosque in New York City has nothing to do with freedom of religion or freedom of speech.
Context is everything. Proponents of the NYC mosque do not want to even consider alternative locations. Why is this site so important that no other will do? No real explanation has been noted. Meanwhile, in Utica, the proponents of the Utica mosque took great pains to respect and fit in with the residents of their new home city. A recent NY Times story questioned whether Uticans would have felt the same if the local muslims were more arab-looking rather than european. It has nothing to do with looks, NY Times, since very many of arab descent have resided here for most of the 20th Century. It has everything to do with attitude. Does a group want to be part of this miracle of freedom we call America ... or destroy it?
A conclusion reasonable people can reach is that the NYC mosque is intended to inflict emotional harm on the citizens of the nation's largest city who were already harmed on 9-11. Rather than trying to integrate with and become part of America and its citizens, the proponents of this mosque, when they insist on this location, are trying to harm America and its citizens.
What other purpose could there be for insisting that the mosque has to be built on that site?
Intentional infliction of emotional distress has been classified as a tort.
A suit to enjoin the mosque probably would test the limits of the First Amendment . . . but there is an appropriate argument to be made there . . . and someone should be making it.