Editor's Note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.
By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN
I have never been a big fan of New York City's major Michael Bloomberg, but he won me over yesterday with a speech that was conservative in the best sense of the term.
Shortly after the city's Landmark Preservation Commission unanimously voted not to grant landmark status to the site of a planned Islamic community center and mosque near ground zero, Bloomberg stood in front of the Statue of Liberty and in the midst of a rainbow of religious leaders and said what should not have needed to be said concerning this bitter controversy.
Calling his city “the freest city in the world,” and the dispute “as important a test of the separation of church and state as we may see in our lifetime,” he rehearsed some of the history of religious bigotry in New York City, including the denial of a Jewish petition for a synagogue in Lower Manhattan in the 1650s.
Bloomberg said that the “murderous fanatics” who attacked America on 9/11 were attacking not only our citizens but also our hard-won freedoms, including “the freedom to worship as we wish.”
He said that the first responders who responded to the attack on the World Trade Center were defending those freedoms and the Constitution that guarantees them. "In rushing into those burning buildings," Bloomberg said, "not one of them asked, ‘What God do you pray to?’ ‘What beliefs do you hold?’"
The mayor then presented the case for the project as open and shut:
The simple fact is this building is private property, and the owners have a right to use the building as a house of worship. The government has no right whatsoever to deny that right–and if it were tried, the courts would almost certainly strike it down as a violation of the U.S. Constitution.
“Lost in the heat of the debate,” Bloomberg continued, “has been a basic question – should government attempt to deny private citizens the right to build a house of worship on private property based on their particular religion? That may happen in other countries, but we should never allow it to happen here.”
Bloomberg concluded one of the finest political speeches I have heard in a long time–and one of the truest expressions of real conservatism–by letting Muslims know that they were welcome in New York City. "Muslims are as much a part of our City and our country as the people of any faith," he said, "and they are as welcome to worship in Lower Manhattan as any other group."
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.
We should be wary of overt islamophobia, and be careful to single out extremists, such as the Taliban.
You absolutely MUST see this: worry less about this one mosque, and more about afghanistan.
Rich people have no sense of reality!!
I think all religions worship the same God, that is the creator of this universe!
Great! Great speech!-–for the muslims.
I hope this will be Bloomberg's last term of mayor of New York. All Muslim lovers should really wake up and see how things are going to be. Do you really want your future grand daughters married at 12 or 14 to a Muslim man to be raped and beaten, or stoned to death based on lies. This is what the Muslims want for America. It will come.
Mayor Bloomberg is a traitor to the citizens of NY as well as to his country. He needs to be put out of office..
This was my reaction to Bloomberg's speech. Mellanie says the rest.
I suppose I should save my e-mail as I can see that you think you are 'right' about the ground zero/mosque issue. You are right about the importance of freedom of religion/freedom of commerce, unfortunately you are showing a suprising lack of insight into what we are talking about here. Whether the developers are moderate or not the building, if built, will be taken by Jihadist Muslims as proof of God's support and a sign of certain victory. God will have blinded the Americans and built a monument to Islamic dominance right before their eyes, miraculously in the very spot of their Victory. Praise to Allah. This will be the rallying call that will bring new, encouraged radicals to a new level of inspired violence. And, really, who could argue. This is not a question of tolerance or zoning, this is a question of National Security.
I am all for Muslims reaching out to explain the nature of their faith. I think victory over terrorism must come with a Muslim offensive to regain separation between great faith and lunacy. Let's help this.
But really this Mosque is simply beyond foolishness.
This article poster Stephen took a bribe money from Muslim mosque and he is traitor of 9/11 victims.
I've read all these comments, and I'm saddened to see so many ignorant and poorly educated people. Everything that has been said negatively about Islam is just plain wrong. I only got a brief glimpse into the religion when I took religious study in high school, and I saw none of what you people talk about. It's time for many of you to actually educate yourselves about Islam. For goodness sakes, pick up a book, do some research, talk to a Muslim. These are the things to do. It's because of hateful things on here why so many Muslims dislike the US. I didn't lose anyone in 9/11, but I think this is a good idea. A good idea for both healing and promoting tolerance. I just want to thank those who are promoting tolerance and understanding. You are giving this twenty-one year old hope for the future of this country. You are the ones that make me proud to be an American citizen. For the rest of you, I hope you take my and other people's advice and educate yourselves. It is your intolerance and hate that is ruining this country and its image around the world.
calling people with other opinions 'ignorant and uneducated' is a bad start to your education. Of course you are on the right track to ask for understanding for Islam, but it was 'Islam' that killed 3000 of your countrymen. I would like to see Muslims and others come together to build a symbolic building that would increase knowledge and understanding. But not anywhere near ground zero. This building is doomed to foster anger, nothing else.
The criminals who perpetrated the terrorist attacks on 9/11 weren't extremists, they were murderers, pure and simple. Those kind of cowards will hide behind any ideology they can get their hands on. These killers just happened to be Muslim.
There is too damn much hatred going around for one little planet. It has to stop or we are doomed as a civilization.
It starts with each one of us. We each have the power to create peace on earth.
Great day for America.
I have lost family on 911. I even know Muslims who lost family members.
I was very bitter in the beginning towards Muslims too, but I soon realized that it is not the fault of the Muslims. It was a heinous crime committed by a few extremists. We should realize that by opposing the mosque we are blaming all American Muslims for the acts of a few. Before we blame others we should look at ourselves and our policies.
This hatred for one another will not help America but divide us. This is exactly what the extremists want. This will help their cause.
The hate preachers of the world cannot divide us. They want to polarize us into but we will unite. Mayor Bloomberg has my respect in ending the fear mongering philosophy of the Bush era.
Matt , All organized religions divide against non-believers...just look @ the news around the world.
Its interesting that several people posting here believe that they're the authority on how terrorists want us to act– that we're just playing into the hands of the terrorists by having major issues with the garbage called Islam.
For those of you who just magically 'know' what the terrorists want, care to explain your credentials for being able to speak for terrorism as an authority?
Will you follow the law and work within the system as you seek changes in the law?
Or do you want to run naked down the street waving a pitchfork?
If there is a major issue that has not been addressed, then could you please be more concise? Your argument appears to incorporate several conflicting threads...
Give us a break!!! Bloomberg failed completely in addressing the major issue, the horror of the koran the operating manual of all male Muslims and a book based on the hallucinations of one warmongering, womanizing Arab named Mohammed. There were never any angels (specifically Gabriel) but all Muslims must believe these mythical tinkerbells exist because it is a tenet of Islam. Without said tenet, there is no Islam!!! And to think how 1.5 billion Muslims have been "mosque-conned" all these years, first by Mohammed and then all the past and current imams and ayatollahs. All Muslims out there, it is time to think for yourself and end 1400 years of fraud.
An excellent speech. I regret ever being sidetracked by all the other related issues. We are a nation that tries very hard to live under the Rule of Law, and the U.S. Constitution is the supreme law of the United States of America.
Great speech...If you're Neville Chamberlain, yes.
lets stop construction on all churches and mosques and build some factories and put Americans back to work .....Secular nation China is being blessed with all American jobs...God must really love china lately...
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.