Thursday, November 19, 2009

Separation of Church and State (only for Muslims?)

On November 18, 2009, Newsday had an interesting story about a Mosque expansion which was drawing the "ire" of neighbors in a Westbury, Long Island, NY community. Why shouldn't it be controversial? The building that was proposed would be huge and the parking would be about 130 cars short of what the code requires. Many cars would therefore have to park in and around the residential neighborhood. A deal to allow some cars to park at a local church was being arranged, but such a deal is not "forever." There would indeed be inconvenience to the neighborhood.

Plus the building will be totally out of character for the area; original plans with an 80 foot minaret on top have been scrapped, but the building is still quite unique.

But this is not unusual. Churches and temples do this all the time to residential neighborhoods. They often lack parking; they're often out of place aesthetically. But you don't often hear about objections. The reason is obvious; no one wants to be seen as anti-religion.

Unless the religion is Islam.

Now it is the opinion of most, if not all supporters of church-state separation, that no special privileges should be given to religious institutions when building their facilities. They should have no special rights other than whatever other non-profit organizations have. If the Center for Inquiry must obey building codes, so should a church, temple or mosque. Most religious persons probably disagree; they prefer privilege for religious institutions.

Unfortunately, Congress, in its infinite lack of wisdom, egged on by an equally un-wise electorate, passed a law in 1993 that is plainly un-Constitutional, called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act which allows religious institutions to run roughshod over many zoning laws. It takes quite a court case to disallow something like this Westbury mosque to be built.

The residents of Westbury can thank those zealous anti-separationists for the cars that often flood their neighborhood. And perhaps it serves some of them right; I wonder how many of them would have supported this structure if it had been of their own denomination?
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