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Do we still have religious freedom here?

By G. Michael Dobbs
Managing Editor
When I make a mistake in fact, I certainly want to address it. Don Crossman of East Longmeadow sent me the following:
"In your column of today, 8/23, you ask why any one takes Rush [Limbaugh] seriously because he implied that there isn't a mosque in the Pentagon. I Googled 'mosque in Pentagon' and found that the error is on your part. There is no mosque in the Pentagon. (factcheck.com) There is a multi-denominational room used by all faiths. You say Rush should speak about things he knows. I have given, and still recommend, the same advice for you. Stick to local issues or least stop depending on Salon and the N.Y.T. for your 'unbiased' news. Or at the very least, listen to Rush yourself, for more than a nanosecond, instead of depending on innuendo from left wing sources who do not listen to him either."
Don is right. There is no mosque in the Pentagon. I used a source I thought was flawless -- neither Salon or The New York Times, by the way -- and I regret the error.
As far as "unbiased," what I write in this column is biased. It's my bias. Isn't that apparent?
However, Limbaugh's assertion that placing a mosque near Ground Zero in New York City is as inappropriate as putting a mosque outside the Pentagon, brings up a new topic to discuss: is it inappropriate to have Islamic religious services in the Pentagon's multi-denominational faith room? What would be the difference between the two?
What is the status of religious freedom in this country today?
While I certainly understand the raw emotion some New Yorkers have on this subject, I don't understand the following:
  • Why are some extending the political attitudes of the 9/11 terrorists to every Muslim in the country? Why and why now?
  • Why has this become a national issue? It's a local issue to New York City, isn't it land use, zoning, etc.?
  • Can you be a Muslim and be a loyal American at the same time?
    The issue is now creating instances of irrational hate. On Aug. 26, the Daily Mail in the United Kingdom reported, "A cab driver has been stabbed in New York after telling his passenger that he was Muslim.
    "Ahmed H. Sharif was slashed in the face and neck after the passenger, 21-year-old Michael Enright, allegedly attacked him.
    "The attack came as tensions over plans to build a mosque at Ground Zero are threatening to spill over into the streets of New York.
    "Sharif picked up Enright at about 6 p.m. on Tuesday evening at East 24th Street and Second Avenue, police spokeswoman Deputy Inspector Kim Royster said.
    "Sharif who is originally from Bangladesh told authorities that during the trip Enright asked him whether he's Muslim.
    "When he said yes, Enright allegedly uttered an Arabic greeting and told Sharif: 'Consider this a checkpoint.'
    "Enright then pulled out a weapon believed to be a folding tool with a knife blade called a Leatherman and attacked Sharif, Royster said.
    "Sharif was seriously wounded in the neck and suffered cuts to his forearms, his face and one hand while trying to fend off Enright, prosecutor James Zeleta said.
    "Sharif tried to lock Enright inside the cab and drive to a police station, police said. The attacker jumped out a rear window at East 40th Street and Third Avenue, 17 blocks from where he hailed the cab.
    "An officer there noticed the commotion, found Enright slumped on the pavement and arrested him. Police believe he was drunk at the time.
    "A case for the tool was found inside the cab, but the tool was missing, police said.
    "Sharif, a 43-year-old immigrant who's driven a cab for 15 years, was quoted in a news release from the New York Taxi Workers Alliance as saying the attack left him shaken.
    "'I feel very sad,' he said.
    "The attack came as tensions in New York are growing over plans to build a mosque at Ground Zero."
    Read it for yourself and take a look at the photos at www.dailymail.co.uk/news/worldnews/article-1306276/Ground-Zero-mosque-New-York-cab-driver-stabbed-saying-Muslim.html.
    On July 29, CNN reported the following: "In protest of what it calls a religion 'of the devil,' a nondenominational church in Gainesville, Fla., plans to host an 'International Burn a Quran Day' on the ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
    "The Dove World Outreach Center says it is hosting the event to remember 9/11 victims and take a stand against Islam. With promotions on its Web site and Facebook page, it invites Christians to burn the Muslim holy book at the church from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.
    "'We believe that Islam is of the devil, that it's causing billions of people to go to hell, it is a deceptive religion, it is a violent religion and that is proven many, many times,' Pastor Terry Jones told CNN's Rick Sanchez earlier this week.
    "Jones wrote a book titled 'Islam is of the Devil,' and the church sells coffee mugs and shirts featuring the phrase."
    A follow-up report on Aug. 19, in the Huffington Post read, "Fire officials in Gainesville, Fla., have denied a permit to a church that wants to burn Qurans on Sept. 11, but church officials said they'll go ahead with the protest that has garnered worldwide attention.
    "Leaders of the Dove World Outreach Center say 'Islam is of the Devil' and plan to burn copies of the Islamic holy book on the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
    "Gene Prince, interim chief of Gainesville Fire Rescue, told The Gainesville Sun that he informed the church on Tuesday (Aug. 17) that the protest violates local fire-prevention laws, which include rules against burning corrugate cardboard or office paper, which includes books.
    "'It wouldn't matter what the book is they're burning,' Deputy Chief Tim Hayes told the newspaper."
    Read the full story here at www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/08/19/quranburning-church-vows-_n_688217.html.
    I thought the Constitution was clear on freedom to practice a religion? Isn't it? Isn't the right to worship something everyone agrees upon?
    The Puritans came here in part to practice their religion. The Puritan establishment didn't understand the concept of religious freedom, though, and tossed Roger Williams out of Massachusetts who did believe in religious freedom.
    In the years that passed, Catholics, Jews and Mormons, among others, have been the targets of hate and prejudice.
    If we are a Christian nation as some assert, although by the Constitution we are not why don't we follow the word of Christ and treat people as we would like to be treated ourselves?
    Hey, agree with me? Disagree? Drop me a line at news@thereminder.com or at 280 N. Main St., East Longmeadow, MA 01028. And as always, this column represents the opinion of its author and not the publishers or advertisers of this newspaper.

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