Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Ground Zero Mosque

I wasn't going to say anything about the proposed ground zero mosque/community center because I don't have an opinion about it or anything to say that is not obvious, but in light of Obama's comments on Friday, I figure I ought to state the obvious.

BHO said: “ Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country. That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances. This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable. The principle that people of all faiths are welcome in this country, and will not be treated differently by their government, is essential to who we are.”

My obvious comment: Whether you have a right to do something, and whether you would be morally blameless in doing it, are not only two different questions, they are almost completely independent of one another. The only connection I can see is irrelevant here: If it is morally okay for you to do it, you must have a right to do it. The opposite inference, the one that Obama seems to be employing, does not work: from the fact that you have a right to do something, it does not follow that you would be blameless in doing it. The moral pros and cons that affect action include a lot more considerations than rights, many of which have nothing to do with whether a government ought to interfere with it.

I would apply the same reasoning to all of the following:
  • Opening a gay bar next to the ground zero mosque.
  • Opening a strip club in the same location.
  • Building a Shinto shrine near Pearl Harbor.
  • Building a Catholic convent near Auschwitz.
Obviously, there are differences between all these cases as well as similarities. I'm only saying that, though, by my standards, all would be within the rights of those who, hypothetically, would be doing them, this does not settle the issue of whether they would be okay things to do. In the case of the Catholic convent near Auschwitz, an actual historical case, I am told that Pope John Paul considered the project, and then canceled it after listening to arguments from Jewish groups.

Update: To be fair, I should note that the next day BHO denied that his Friday remarks were meant as an endorsement of the proposed mosque. As to whether the new comments constitute backpedaling, or whether they actually make the very same point I am making above, I am undecided.
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