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August 31st, 2010
10:23 AM ET

A Mormon with a memory: Sen. Hatch greenlights "Ground Zero Mosque"

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

In an interview on Monday with Fox13now in Salt Lake City, Utah Senator Orrin Hatch said he would be “the first to stand up” for the rights of Muslims to build an Islamic community center and mosque near ground zero. Well, he’s not exactly the first, but I’ll take it.

A few days ago I lamented the fact that so many prominent Mormons, including Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid and Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, had come out against the mosque.

As almost every Mormon knows, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have been on the receiving end of more than their fair share of religious discrimination, including discrimination of the “don’t build it here” kind.

The Mormon founder Joseph Smith Jr. was killed by an anti-Mormon mob in 1844, and one reason LDS Church members made their westward trek to Utah was because they were hounded out of New York, Illinois, and Missouri by people who thought "Mormon American" was an oxymoron.

Roughly a decade ago a bitter controversy arose in Massachusetts concerning a proposed Mormon temple. The site is literally in the neighborhood of Romney’s family residence in Belmont, Massachusetts, and it was to serve a congregation that Romney himself led as Bishop from 1984 to 1986.

Local residents opposed just about everything about the temple, including its height and the customary Mormon spire with an angel on top. But the Mormons (and the Constitution) won and the temple was dedicated for use in 2000.

My point is that Anti-Mormonism is not just ancient history, which is why I have found the denunciation of the mosque by Reid and by Romney’s surrogates so troubling. Ditto for that supposed paragon of American values, and self-appointed pastor to the nation, and Mormon Glenn Beck, who has referred to the Park51 project as an "Allah tells me to blow up America mosque.”

But finally a leading Mormon politician has stepped up, much as Jewish leaders stepped up after the ADL committed seppuku on its own good name by coming out against the Islamic community center and mosque. So kudos to Orrin Hatch (who also called Islam a "great religion") for breaking ranks not only with his fellow Mormon leaders but also with his fellow Republicans, who have been leading the cynical anything-for-a-few-votes-in-November charge against the Park51 project, American values, and American law.

Speaking of American law, Hatch was a co-sponsor (with the late Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy) of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), a federal statute passed in 2000 to outlaw religious bias in zoning precisely for cases such as the Mormon temple in Belmont and the Islamic community center at ground zero.

So he knows what he is talking about. Too bad so few of his fellow legislators (on either side of the aisle) do. The bill passed both houses of Congress unanimously.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.

- CNN Belief Blog contributor

Filed under: 'Ground zero mosque' • Church and state • Culture wars • Interfaith issues • Islam • Mormonism • Mosque • Muslim • New York • Politics

soundoff (79 Responses)
  1. A Bjorn

    Jesus taught inclusion in our charity and brotherhood. I suspect he would support agency to allow the mosque at ground zero. Joseph Smith offered use of the Nauvoo Temple to any other religions (before it was dedicated). I suspect he would support the mosque's construction. I served in the US Army to protect freedoms for all within our shores. I strongly support the right of any religious group to build facilities for faith based activity in our great country.

    December 18, 2010 at 2:16 pm |
  2. zamanbitiyor

    An informative blog

    October 13, 2010 at 3:53 pm |
  3. Russell

    Thank you, Orrin! While I understand the sensitivity of the issue to those who lost loved ones in 9/11 - as a Mormon and as an American who deeply believes in religious liberty - I wholy support the proposed mosque near ground zero.

    September 8, 2010 at 1:08 am |
  4. AmericaNA

    TO TAMRA THE LEGAL SCHOLAR, hmmmmm

    get a life will you????

    Why is it the wrong thing to do on every level?

    Do you agree that 300+ AMERICAN MUSLIMS DIED ON 9/11?
    If yes than,
    Do you agree that the families of the 300+ AMERICAN MUSLIMS WHO DIED ON 9/11 HAVE THEIR needs and SENSITIVITIES ISSUES that need to be addressed?
    If yes than,
    Don't you think that those families would like to come and pray for their dead loved one with dignity and without fear?

    Your BIGGOTRIESSSS is UNBELIEVABLE you want us to worry and be sensitive ABOUT THE CHRISITIANS, JEWS BUT WHEN IT COMES TO
    the 300 AMERICAN MUSLIMS victims families

    YOU DON'T GIVES A SHHHHHHHHHT.

    You are only fooling yourself by acting so high and mighty for the feeling of some of the victims but when it comes the AMERICAN MUSLIMS FAMILIES VICTIMS
    let them BUILD MOSQUE SOMEWHERE ELSE.

    These are AMERICANS TOOOOO and if you and the rest of the WHITE TRASH, HILLBILLIES TRAIL PARK WILL NOT be sensitive to their feelings TOOOOO as you are so sensitive to the feelings of the rest of the victims than you

    SHOULD NOT BE ALLOWED TO SPEAK AND PROFESS ABOUT RIGHT AND WRONG.

    Just a reminder, this AMERICA THE LAND OF THE FREE...and as of today DISCRIMINATION ON THE BASIS OF RELIGION, RACE... etc... is a FEDERAL OFFENSE....

    September 3, 2010 at 8:19 pm |
    • Leigh

      I totally agree with their right to build a Mosque at the proposed site. I simply think the idea is in very poor taste and at a minimum is very poor PR.

      September 30, 2010 at 4:41 am |
  5. Laura

    Wow...Thanks for addressing this issue again. I commented last time you wrote about this and I'm so glad that you featured a Mormon who's supportive of the mosque because Romney, Beck, and Reid don't represent all of us.:

    September 2, 2010 at 10:34 pm |
  6. Liselotte

    Is building a Mosque near Ground Zero insensitive? Probably. But will I defend their right to build it? If I, as a practicing Latter Day Saint, want my own right to build a temple protected, you bet I do. Does Glenn Beck say distasteful and insensitive things? Always. Do I defend his right to say them? If I want to protect my right to publically call him an idiot, you bet I do.

    September 2, 2010 at 2:53 pm |
    • Tamra

      Liselotte, you're confusing whether people are talking about this being a right, or being right to do. No one is questioning their legal right (if, of course it falls within the confines of zoning laws, etc.) The argument is that it is the wrong thing to do on every other level. I, like you, would fight for their right to build that Mosque. However, I would also encourage all who are against the audacious insensitivity of that Mosque, to exercise their right to put a stop to it within the confines of the law.

      September 2, 2010 at 4:06 pm |
  7. Benito

    I hope that every American, regardless of where he lives, will stop and examine his conscience about this and other related incidents. This Nation was founded by men of many nations and backgrounds. It was founded on the principle that all men are created equal, and that the rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened. All of us ought to have the right to be treated as he would wish to be treated, as one would wish his children to be treated, but this is not the case.

    I know those opposing the NY Community Center continue to say that that the majority supports them, but as history has taught us the majority is not always right. Would women or non-whites have the vote if we listen to the majority of the day, would the non-whites have equal rights (and equal access to churches, housing, restaurants, hotels, retail stores, schools, colleges and yes water fountains) if we listen to the majority of the day? We all know the answer, a resounding, NO!

    Today we are committed to a worldwide struggle to promote and protect the rights of all who wish to be free. In a time of domestic crisis men of good will and generosity should be able to unite regardless of party or politics and do what is right, not what is just popular with the majority. Some men comprehend discrimination by never have experiencing it in their lives, but the majority will only understand after it happens to them.

    September 1, 2010 at 6:29 pm |
    • Tamra

      The majority isn't always wrong either. Considering how others would like to be treated shouldn't stop at religions, but also the victims' families of the tragedy. This isn't discrimination against a religion; it is an outcry against egregious insensitivity by SOME Muslims, not all. Debbie Burlingame, who's brother died in the attacks said, "This is a place which is 600 feet from where almost 3,000 people were torn to pieces by Islamic extremists.... it is incredibly insensitive and audacious ... for them to build a mosque ... so that they could be in proximity to where that atrocity happened... The idea that you would establish a religious institution that embraces the very shariah law that terrorists point to as their justification for what they did ... to build that where almost 3,000 people died, that is an obscenity to me." I'm in favor of treating her as I'd want to be treated if I'd lost a loved one in 9/11. My conscience sides with not re-victimizing the victims. The Mosque can be built anywhere; Rauf can choose that. The victims' families have no choice in this.

      September 2, 2010 at 2:10 am |
  8. Babar

    I was just wondering if any of know that there is an evangalical church in Hiroshima that delivers sermons in English. Almost 200,000 died as a result of the nuclear blast. I don't think the Japanese are holding all Americans and the entire Christian World responsible for that attack. It is about time the blame is directed towards the guilty not a whole community.

    September 1, 2010 at 3:58 pm |
  9. Chrissy

    I am a lifelong member of the Mormon church, and I applaud Sen. Hatch for taking this stand. We in the church are taught to respect all religious denominations and opinions and "let them worship how, where, or what they may." I am severely disappointed with Harry Reid and Mitt Romney and others who are putting political ambitions ahead of standing up for what's right. They both should have been taught better than that. I also will stand with my Muslim brothers and sisters and support their right to have a place of worship where they like. Much like many uneducated people in this country who do not seperate the polygamists from the REAL Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, we as a country also do not seperate the terrorists from the TRUE Islamic religion. And that's just sad that we Americans can be so closed-minded.

    September 1, 2010 at 3:44 pm |
    • Frogist

      here here Chrissy!

      September 1, 2010 at 4:25 pm |
    • Tamra

      Has it occurred to you that they think their side of this is right? Or that some of your Muslim brothers and sisters are definitively against this? No one is saying they don't have rights to build that mosque. (I don't know what the zoning laws are in Manhattan.) But HAVING a right and it BEING the right thing to do are often two different things. People also have the right to picket, and boycott businesses who take part in building this slap-in-the-face-mosque. And, I would go a step farther by saying, if this travesty continues, that's the right thing to do.

      September 2, 2010 at 2:04 am |
    • Liselotte

      Tamra, go for it. Luckily, your right to say anything you want, no matter how insensitive, or ugly, or damaging to somebody else, is protected under the First Amendment. You know, the same amendment that says talks about the pesky freedom of religion....

      September 2, 2010 at 2:56 pm |
    • Tamra

      Exactly, Liselott. Which is why I'm saying that they have the right to build that mosque although it IS insensitive and ugly to the victims' families. So the people who oppose it have the right to picket, and have their voices heard in an effort to stop that insensitivity. On that point we agree. We don't, however, agree on the idea that freedom of religion is pesky. . .you may feel that way, I disagree. Respectfully, of course.

      September 2, 2010 at 4:01 pm |
  10. Frogist

    OK Brace yourself!
    How exactly does this building hurt families of the victims of 9/11? How exactly?
    Well maybe because they can see or hear it from ground zero when they go there? Well no, they can't. It's blocks away and facing the other direction, completely out of sight from the wtc site. Is it because they just know that it's there and it feels wrong. Everything is going to feel wrong when they visit the site or think of their lost ones. Probably for a very long time. They probably can't ever get on a plane without fear now too. Does that mean we close all the airports in NY? Obviously, no. For this building to hurt, the victims would have to equate all of Islam with radical extremists, which as we know is a terrible generalization that maligns good people who practice that faith. And while it may be a very real hurdle for some of the families, something that feels completely consistent with their knowledge of tragedy, it is not consistent with how America treats its citizens. The pain of these families does not ent-itle them to irrational or bigoted positions. It ent-itles them to sympathy and care, but not the infringement of another person's rights.

    There are many things to remind us of the tragedies in our lives. Hiding from them or dwelling on them just makes them hurt more. I suggest to each family member who is so offended by this center to try to schedule a day with a muslim organization or even better go to an Eid festival. Be open to the generosity that is available from the muslim community. Maybe meet with one of the muslim families who lost someone that day. You will see you are not so different after all. Right now, you are living with anger and fear of a vast enemy you think encompasses millions of muslim people. When you meet with them, that number will be hugely reduced and your enemy will grow smaller. Your loved ones would not want you to live in anger and fear. I suggest you try for their sakes.

    September 1, 2010 at 3:31 pm |
    • Tamra

      Yeah, so get over it victims of the largest mass murder on mainland soil. Just get over it already and stop being bigoted.

      September 2, 2010 at 2:00 am |
    • AmericaNA

      TO TAMRA

      get a life will you????

      Why is it the wrong thing to do on every level?

      Do you agree that 300+ AMERICAN MUSLIMS DIED ON 9/11?
      If yes than,
      Do you agree that the families of the 300+ AMERICAN MUSLIMS WHO DIED ON 9/11 HAVE THEIR needs and SENSITIVITIES ISSUES that need to be addressed?
      If yes than,
      Don't you think that those families would like to come and pray for their dead loved one with dignity and without fear?

      Your BIGGOTRIESSSS is UNBELIEVABLE you want us to worry and be sensitive ABOUT THE CHRISITIANS, JEWS BUT WHEN IT COMES TO
      the 300 AMERICAN MUSLIMS victims families

      YOU DON'T GIVES A SHHHHHHHHHT.

      You are only fooling yourself by acting so high and mighty for the feeling of some of the victims but when it comes the AMERICAN MUSLIMS FAMILIES VICTIMS
      let them BUILD MOSQUE SOMEWHERE ELSE.

      These are AMERICANS TOOOOO and if you and the rest of the WHITE TRASH, HILLBILLIES TRAIL PARK WILL NOT be sensitive to their feelings TOOOOO as you are so sensitive to the feelings of the rest of the victims than you

      SHOULD NOT BE ALLOWED TO SPEAK AND PROFESS ABOUT RIGHT AND WRONG.

      Just a reminder, this AMERICA THE LAND OF THE FREE...and as of today DISCRIMINATION ON THE BASIS OF RELIGION, RACE... etc... is a FEDERAL OFFENSE....

      September 3, 2010 at 8:18 pm |
  11. Frogist

    OK Brace yourself!
    How exactly does this building hurt families of the victims of 9/11? How exactly?
    Well maybe because they can see or hear it from ground zero when they go there? Well no, they can't. It's blocks away and facing the other direction, completely out of sight from the wtc site. Is it because they just know that it's there and it feels wrong. Everything is going to feel wrong when they visit the site or think of their lost ones. Probably for a very long time. They probably can't ever get on a plane without fear now too. Does that mean we close all the airports in NY? Obviously, no. For building to hurt, the victims would have to equate all of Islam with radical extremists, which as we know is a terribly generalization that maligns good people who practice that faith. And while it may be a very real hurdle for some of the families, something that feels completely consistent with their knowledge of tragedy, it is not consistent with how America treats its citizens. The pain of these families does not entitle them to irrational or bigoted positions. It entitles them to sympathy and care, but not the infringement of another person's rights.

    There are many things to remind us of the tragedies in our lives. Hiding from them or dwelling on them just makes them hurt more. I suggest to each family member who is so offended by this center to try to schedule a day with a muslim organization or even better go to an Eid festival. Be open to the generosity that is available from the muslim community. Maybe meet with one of the muslim families who lost someone that day. You will see you are not so different after all. Right now, you are living with anger and fear of a vast enemy you think encompasses millions of muslim people. When you meet with them, that number will be hugely reduced and your enemy will grow smaller. Your loved ones would not want you to live in anger and fear. I suggest you try for their sakes.

    September 1, 2010 at 3:25 pm |
  12. Reality

    Tis interesting, that Mormons never say anything about the "angelic-con job" that Joe Smith pulled on them. Actually, they are not alone in this silence:

    Joe Smith had his Moroni.

    Jehovah Witnesses have their Jesus /Michael the archangel, the first angelic being created by God;

    Mohammed had his Gabriel (this "tinkerer" got around).

    Jesus and his family had Michael, Gabriel, and Satan, the latter being a modern day d-emon of the de-mented.

    The Abraham-Moses myths had their Angel of Death and other "no-namers" to do their dirty work or other assorted duties.

    Contemporary biblical and religious scholars have relegated these "pretty wingie thingies" to the myth pile. We should do the same to include deleting all references to them in our religious operating manuals. Doing this will eliminate the prophet/profit/prophecy status of these founders and put them where they belong as simple humans just like the rest of us.

    Some added references to "tin-ker bells".

    "Latter-day Saints also believe that Michael the Archangel was Adam (the first man) when he was mortal, and Gabriel lived on the earth as Noah."

    Apparently hallucinations did not stop with Joe Smith.

    September 1, 2010 at 12:42 pm |
    • Tamra

      Maybe you should contribute to the topic of debate and keep your anti-mormon sentiments for sites dedicated to that topic.

      September 2, 2010 at 1:58 am |
  13. dave

    Im sorry for those Muslims that want to build a mosque on ground zero but its not my problem that people that share your religion attacked our country and started this whole ordeal. If Americans nuked Iraq then built a church on top of the rubble,im pretty sure we'd have a full scale uprising on our hands. Hows that for a double standard!

    September 1, 2010 at 11:00 am |
    • Kate

      @dave

      I'm sorry that christians hate America and celebrate the deaths of our servicemembers, but it's not my problem that people that share your religion do that. The deafening silence rather than condemnation by christians is implicit approval of their actions.

      Double standards indeed.

      p.s. Park51 is 2 blocks away from the nearest corner of the Ground Zero site.

      Just sayin'

      September 1, 2010 at 11:57 am |
  14. Ryan Farnes

    The fact that muslims can build a mosque near ground zero tells you everything you need to know about America.

    The fact that muslims will build a mosque near ground zero tells you everything you need to know about Muslims.

    September 1, 2010 at 8:52 am |
    • Kate

      @Ryan

      The fact that politicians are using the murder of nearly 3,000 people to gain votes tells you everything you need to know about politicians.

      Just sayin'

      September 1, 2010 at 10:21 am |
    • Liselotte

      Well put.

      September 2, 2010 at 2:58 pm |
  15. Clyde Casstevens

    I personaley beliave any one caught lieing on anyone in american,[no one be allow to get by]no one should be allow to get by,there should be a federal passed & states should be force to pass same laws or taken over my the federal that plainly states you lie on some else,you have 24 hours to prove you didn;t lie & you can;t,right then & there,you are taken out & on your way to hell.let there be no doubt in anyone mind about it. I for one would be happy to send you on your way.would love it. clyde 8-31-2010.ps lady on cnn,the first move you made at birth was a lie & you;ve never stopped

    September 1, 2010 at 1:48 am |
    • Saladin

      I'm sorry, Clyde. Your illiterate ramblings are hard to decipher. What are you trying to say?

      September 1, 2010 at 2:06 am |
  16. Frogist

    Good for you Sen. Hatch. How about you get a few of your colleagues on board too? That would be even better.

    August 31, 2010 at 11:28 pm |
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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 and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.