August 6th, 2010
02:23 PM ET

My take: Christian group is latest ground zero hypocrite

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

The Anti-Defamation League isn’t the only organization losing its soul in the debate over the proposed Islamic community center and mosque at Ground Zero.

On Wednesday, a lesser-known group called the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) sued the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission in an effort to overturn the commission’s decision to deny the Park51 building landmark status.

Filed on behalf of Tim Brown, a firefighter who survived the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers, the suit alleges that the city failed to follow its own policies and procedures and exhibited “an arbitrary and capricious abuse of discretion” in voting unanimously against landmark status.

What is both sad and ironic about this lawsuit is that the ACLJ, which was founded by Pat Robertson in 1990, has been in the forefront of utilizing a little-known federal statute to protect churches from religious discrimination disguised as zoning rulings. The ACLJ’s website contains an extensive and glowing overview of the statute, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), which was passed in 2000 with strong support from the Religious Right, the ACLJ included.

Since that time, the ACLJ has invoked RLUIPA in dozens of cases. For example, in a Texas case, ACLJ litigator Wesley Southerland argued that a local ordinance violated RLUIPA, which in Southerland’s words “(protects) religious assemblies and institutions from land use regulations that interfere with their religious exercise.”

According to the ACLJ website:

Churches across the nation are increasingly facing discrimination from local zoning authorities with respect to location or improvement of their facilities. Zoning Boards often want to eliminate churches from downtown and commercial areas because churches do not generate retail and tax revenue. They also attempt to restrict churches in residential areas for allegedly creating traffic and noise problems. The result has been that our nation's houses of faith have their freedom to worship where and how they choose violated by ignorant or hostile zoning officials.

So the ACLJ has been rushing into the breach to defend these “houses of faith” and their “freedom to worship,” right?

Well, not exactly. As the rest of this statement makes clear, the ACLJ focuses pretty exclusively on defending churches from religious discrimination.

It is not quite fair, therefore, to compare the ACLJ with the ADL, which claims to be outraged by religious bigotry of all sorts. Still, what are we to make of the character of an organization that has fought for years to protect the rights of Christians to build churches filing suit to block the rights of Muslims to build a mosque?

Not much, I am afraid.

To their credit, Jewish leaders called the ADL out for its bigotry and hypocrisy after it came out against the Islamic Center near ground zero.  Will Christian intellectuals do the same for the ACLJ? Don’t bet on it.

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

- CNN Belief Blog contributor

Filed under: 'Ground zero mosque' • Courts • Culture wars • Islam • Politics

soundoff (38 Responses)
  1. Ken M.

    I'd be surprised if this proposed Islamic Center is still standing in a year. The Jews are wrong, the Christians are wrong, the Islamics are wrong...yer all wrong. There is only one true God...and Her name is Gaia. And she's not impressed.

    August 8, 2010 at 2:38 pm |
    • peace2all

      @Ken M.

      Yet, another example of 'end of times' thinking... just under the guise of Gaia. Earth and Mo. nature is mad at it's creations that it will destroy everybody and everything...?


      August 8, 2010 at 3:20 pm |
  2. barbara

    There are mosques already in NY and why building another one, which historically is their "monument to triumph" over 911 is beyond me. But that's why they want it built where it is... to rub it in our faces that they can do what ever they want here. If they truly wanted to "bridge" religious differences they wouldn't even suggest it being built there. But that is not their intention and the author of this article is being really stupid and naive if he thinks that Islam is a peaceful religion. They want us to allow them religious freedom to build their mosque wherever they want yet, if we are not allowd to build church/temples in their countries... in fact carrying a bible is considered prostiltizing and is punishable by death. So much for religious freedom in Muslim countries. They preach and are taught religious intolerance from day one.... there is only one religion and it's Islam. We are the infidel and it's their JOB for the glory of Allah to rid the world of infidels. I suspect that Mayor Bloomsberg is either being threatened by this Cordoba Initiative that if they aren't allowed to build it, there will be more terror attacks on NY, or he has a vested interest in the construction project. The mouth piece for this Cordoba Initiatve is the one who said we had no one but ourselves to blame for 911. And you want these people building a Mosque on that very site. Something is very wrong with this picture. And by the way... very few Muslims died on 911 and they were considered not "real muslims" because they working for the enemy – the US and therefore expendable. Next they'll want Sharia law (like they have in Dearborn, Michigan) Australia won't allow it there. And then who knows... they'll want public stonings and public executions of women convicted of adultery all under the guise of RELIGIOUS FREEDOM!

    August 8, 2010 at 9:07 am |
    • Eric G

      While I understand why you feel the way you do, your ignorance is astounding. All religions are violent. They all need to be put on the scrap heap of "human beliefs who's time has passed". By the way, I live in Dearborn, Michigan. They do not practice Sharia law. Why did you think we do? Is it because someone told you it was true?

      August 8, 2010 at 9:25 am |
  3. Bert

    Mr. Prothero fails to take context into account. The ACLJ would never defend, for example, constructing a Christian church next to a Muslim holy site, e.g. the Dome of the Rock. (In fact, in most Muslim countries, including Saudia Arabia, churches and Bibles are forbidden and Christians are routinely persecuted and murdered.) Just because our laws technically grant Muslims the right to build their mosque near the 9/11 site doesn't make it right. Should the Jews assent to the construction of a monument to Adolf Hitler on the grounds of Auschwitz? Technically, somebody could perhaps get away with such an abomination, but that wouldn't make it morally right. The ACLJ would gladly close up shop, Mr. Prothero, if you and your friends would stop trying to marginalize Christians in the public arena.

    August 8, 2010 at 3:29 am |
  4. Shocked and appalled

    I am disgusted that we are having this conversation. Putting a mosque at Ground Zero is a mockery of America and our profound loss. That any American would condone it, and better yet, criticize others for opposing it makes me ashamed for them. Porthero, take a night out of your busy nights blogging and go sit with the family members of 9/11 victims and see how wrong you are. Don't be a hypocrite, be a man, be an American, I dare you.

    August 8, 2010 at 1:29 am |
    • goldie08

      This is from the Canadian side. You might be interested
      in reading it:


      "Proposal for a mosque at site of 9/11 tragedy is nothing short of creating a 'fitna' or making mischief"

      TORONTO – The Muslim Canadian Congress (MCC) is urging the Cordoba House Initiative to abandon its proposed Ground-Zero Mosque in New York in the face of outrage expressed by large segments of the American population calling the proposal an act of 'fitna' or mischief.

      In a letter to Imam Faisal Rauf that will be delivered on Tuesday, August 10 by MCC's board member Raheel Raza, the MCC says, "Many Muslims suspect that the idea behind the Ground Zero mosque is meant to be a deliberate provocation, to thumb our noses at the 'infidel.' We believe the proposal has been made in bad faith and, in Islamic parlance, is creating 'fitna,' meaning 'mischief-making,' an act clearly forbidden in the Qur'an.

      "The Qur'an commands us Muslims to, 'be considerate when you debate with the People of the Book' - i.e., Jews and Christians [chapter 29, verse 46]. Building an exclusive place of worship for Muslims at the place where Muslims killed thousands of New Yorkers, is not being considerate or sensitive, it is undoubtedly an act of fitna," the letter added.


      August 15, 2010 at 8:10 pm |
  5. Surthurfurd

    People demanded that Muslims prove they want to be full members of Western culture. So when Muslims seek to do that, they are seen as trying to infiltrate. If the stated goal is that this building is to open up a cultural link with the community, then hold them to it. The problem is we want to be offended. We want to justify our tendency to blame all Muslims for the events of 9/11. We want to be as shallow as al Queda (remember their justification for attacking civilians... they assumed all civilians were innately guilty by association). We can and should do better.

    August 7, 2010 at 8:23 pm |
  6. seidr

    i really feel as americans, we must honor freedom of religion, however, are we forgetting separation of church and state? which is a large fundamental of assurance, of our freedom? stop giving favoritism to every freak who claims "religion makes me do it"!

    August 7, 2010 at 8:02 pm |
  7. Rev Charlie Rizzo

    Wow......I think I'll lose my faith. What compelling arguments! In one night I have seen evidence of evolution( stalled) and a Creator. Time to thin-out the gene pool. Seriously.....leave religion out of this all together. Is it appropiate to build ANY house of worship at ground zero? Many perished on that day. Athiests, agnostics and religious people shared the same injustice.
    THIS IS NOT ABOUT RELIGIOUS FREEDOM! Common sense and propriety should have been applied long before this even became an issue.

    August 7, 2010 at 8:01 pm |
  8. jesse

    thank goodness Prothero doesn't purport to speak for God......Or does he.????? What Stephen and his liberal friends fail to recognize is that this proposed Mosque is not an religious overture. It is political and purely to advance an "Islamic" agenda in America. The people behind the idea are POLITICALLY motivated. Mosques could be built {and have been} in many parts of New York and the MANY sectors of society {Gay straight liberal conservative religious atheists jews catholics protestants......etc etc etc } would not object. It is their insistance that it be built here so close to their major "victory" over the infidels that causes so many of us great concern..Mainstream Muslims will follow hard on the heels of a mosque built here with demands for Sharia law.We have to draw a line in the sand in this matter, NO MONUMENT SHOULS BE BUILT TO HONOR THESE THUGS WHO KILLED OUR INNOCENT AMERICANS!!!!!!!!

    August 7, 2010 at 6:26 pm |
  9. Tommie

    Is this guy getting paid by the word or the week to shill for the Lib agenda. Everybody knows the score. Libs too. They are all pretending to act so nice waiting for the nice everyday normal Americans to say something the Libs can twist against them. How can the Libs pretend not to see the insult? Think it is time to send these Libs packing back to where they came from.

    August 7, 2010 at 5:45 pm |
  10. Bill Gilman

    The author slams Christians as being gutless lemmings at the bottom of the article ... you want to see someone that holds fellow Christians accountable for stupidity and hypocrisy? look no further tham Jim Wallis and the soujourners .... trust me, there are many of us that are willing to call out the ACLJ for their hypocrisy and hatred.... the author is making an ignorant and unfair statement.

    August 7, 2010 at 9:12 am |
  11. Reality

    Once again for the "newbees":

    Recognizing the flaws in the foundations of Islam, Judaism and Christianity by the "bowers", "kneelers" and "pew peasants" will quickly converge these religions into some simple rules of life. No clerics, imams, rabbis and priests needed or desired. Ditto for their houses of worthless worship. It will be called the great "Pink Slipping" of religion and its leaders.

    As per James Somerville, Philosophy professor emeritus from Xavier University, Cincinnati,

    "The faith of the vast majority of believers (and non-believers) depends upon where they were born and when."

    It is very disturbing that such religious violence and hatred continues unabated due to radomness of birth. Maybe just maybe if this fact would be published on the first page of every newspaper every day, that we would finally realize the significant stupidity of it all.

    August 7, 2010 at 7:40 am |
    • Bill Gilman

      Somerville is in err ..... If people are willing to listen to Him speak in their heart, God will speak the truth to anyone and everyone and it is a singular truth of peace and love and mercy and grace and forgiveness .... "religion" doesnt matter .... "religion" is a joke ... the only thing that matters is a personal, honest relationship with God and Jesus Christ .... through that comes peace of mind and peace of heart .... anyone practicing hatred and intolerance, i would have to question if they are truly a follower of Christ and a person who loves God .... hate/anger and Jesus do not mix .... ever

      August 7, 2010 at 9:09 am |
    • Reality

      Jesus' body is a-mouldering in the ground no different than any other dead person.

      August 7, 2010 at 10:48 am |
    • Rev Charlie Rizzo

      I would change your name.....really.

      August 7, 2010 at 7:53 pm |
  12. Roscoe

    That ACLJ group appears to be hoist upon their own thingamabobble. It makes me think of dusty old churches where the old members continue on pretending that hardly anyone shows up anymore.

    August 6, 2010 at 9:31 pm |
  13. Logic Logic

    Your argument is laced with both paranoia and poison.

    It's a well documented fact that Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world. Which Muslim armies are out there today forcing people to convert at the tip of the sword?

    August 6, 2010 at 8:45 pm |
  14. Sarah

    Stephen, I love this article- thank you!
    How sad this is even an issue in America. How sad that we say- "we're for religious freedom! but only if you prescribe to the religion of our approval."

    August 6, 2010 at 6:08 pm |
  15. Reality


    Something for you to read while prepping for your debate:

    Islam’s Koran and World Domination

    Mohammed could not have known the size of the world, but several passages in the Koran show that he envisioned Islam dominating all of it, however large it might be: “He it is who sent his messenger . . . that he may cause it [Islam] to prevail over all religions´(Koran 9:33, M.M. Ali; see also 48:28 and 61:9). M.M. Ali designates these three passages as “the prophecy of the ultimate triumph of Islam in the whole world.”

    Mohammed’s successors, the caliphs, quoted passages like these to inspire Muslim armies as they advanced out of Arabia, imposing Islam by the sword upon a peacefully unsuspecting Middle East and North Africa, as I described in the previous chapter.

    Islamic armies, imbued with what Mohammed claimed was divine authorization, imposed Islam by force over vast areas, all the while extorting wealth from subjugated Jews and Christians to fund their ongoing conquests. As I noted, major defeats at Tours, France, in A.D. 732, and again at Vienna, Austria, in A.D. 1683, halted Islam’s attempt to take all of Europe by force. Gradually Islamic forces were forced to retreat from Europe, except for part of the Balkans. But Islam has again set its sights on a conquest of Europe and of European civilization, wherever the latter has spread to North and South America and other regions. Muslim strategists ask their followers, Why do we find in these modern times that Allah has entrusted most of the world’s oil wealth primarily to Muslim nations?

    Their answer: Allah foresaw Islam’s need for funds to finance a final politico-religious victory over what Islam perceives as its ultimate enemy: Christianized Euro-American civilization. So, Islam follows Nazism, fascism and communism as the world’s latest hostile takeover aspirant.

    Nazis, fascists and communists failed. Does Islam have a better chance at success? I believe it will flounder if we awaken to its threat in time; yet, if there is not adequate planned resistance, Islam does have a better chance of succeeding. Communism’s world takeover attempt was guaranteed to fail because its economic policy was naively contrary to human nature. Advocating the rubric What is mine is thine, and what is thine is mine, communism failed to see that human nature will not keep those two balanced propositions in equilibrium. Like a female black widow spider consuming her mate, the latter part of the formula makes a meal of the former, leading to the collapse of any system based upon that formula.

    In contrast, political systems do well if they can persuade people to adhere to What’s mine is mine and What’s thine is thine maxims.

    Only if a strong religious incentive is added does such an idealistic formula have any long-term chance. Even then success will be spotty. But communism (and Nazism, for that matter) excluded religion. And that mistake was the final nail eventually clamping a lid on communism’s coffin. Communism, on a historical scale, perished while still in its childhood.

    Islam is not repeating communism’s mistake. Mating political cunning and incredible wealth with religious zeal, Islam does have a chance to succeed and will succeed unless major parts of the Western world unite to take appropriate countermeasures. But many Western leaders, unable to believe that a mere religion could possible be a serious political threat, keep proclaiming themselves as Islam-friendly, reasoning that all religions are good-aren’t they?

    A Muslim strategist in Beverly Hills, California, declared several years ago, as quoted by a friend of mine: “Now that the struggle between Western democracies and international communism is winding down, it is time for the real and final struggle to begin, and we are going to win!”

    When will people realize that just as there are good doctors and quacks, good cops and rogue cops, there can also be good religions and bad religions?

    August 6, 2010 at 5:12 pm |
    • Bob

      Who is to make the decision on what is and isn't a good religion then? I would call the Roman Catholic Church evil, for it allows the spread of AIDS simply because of what they believe. Should they be banned?

      Perhaps the real answer is that all religion should be looked at and questioned. Perhaps the messages in the bible and the quran and every other holy book aren't accurate and are not the voice of God. Maybe they're just nonsense.

      But if you never ask the question, you'll never know.

      August 6, 2010 at 6:00 pm |
    • Bill Gilman

      ..... and Jesus told us to make disciples of ALL nations ... no difference here .... it is how those edicts are interpreted by followers .... most people of both Islam and Christianity know that we are intended to share our faith by words not by guns and bombs .... the radical muslims of today are making exactly the same error that was made by the christians of the middle ages with the inquisition and the crusades ....

      August 7, 2010 at 9:03 am |
  16. Logic Logic

    Excellent points Stephen! BRAVO!

    As a US citizen who is proud of the freedom granted to us by the constitution, it's appalling to see the double-standards that exist when dealing with Muslims. The same organizations that are against this construction would STRONGLY support building of a church on the same ground knowing very well that lots of Jews, Hindus, Muslims and religion-agnostic people were also tragically killed there.

    I find this mentality very similar to the folks who in the 60's fought against integration of schools. Same mind-set of folks who'd preferred to see African-American brothers and sisters sit on the back of the bus or drink from a "colored" water fountain. It's appalling to see this attitude and double-standard. I'd like to believe that we've come a lot farther than that as a nation.

    August 6, 2010 at 4:18 pm |
  17. Bob

    Remember Sodon and Gomorrah...............Total destruction for practacing homosexuallity


    Plagues, Aids,Total Financial Destruction, Water Pollution, Extreme Heat, Wars, Famine, Huge Earthquakes, Huge Hailstones of 100 Pounds, etc. It is time to consider the penalty for homosexuallity and other sins that GOD has planned for the USA.
    Revelation chapters 6 to 18. It is time to repent and follow Jesus Christ as LORD and GOD or Pay the penalty for our sins.

    August 6, 2010 at 4:13 pm |
  18. Lee

    Christian intellectuals??? Is there such a thing?

    August 6, 2010 at 3:32 pm |
    • Bob

      Don't get me wrong, there are Christian Intellectuals, absolutely. Except that they don't apply their minds fully and equally to every subject.

      If one was trying to convince them that Islam was correct, undoubtedly they would require mountains of evidence. However, for them to believe their faith, they require little more then an assertation.

      Double standard much? 🙂

      August 6, 2010 at 6:05 pm |
    • Bill Gilman

      hey, hey, easy there .... no need to get nasty in a perfectly reasonable and civil debate..... when you can offer a scientifically backed reason for how the matter that exploded in the big bang was created without supernatural help, then you can accuse us Christians of being "stupid." until then, let's agree that most everything is based on faith and assumption of one type or another ...

      August 7, 2010 at 9:00 am |
    • Rev Charlie Rizzo

      C.S. Lewis is sadly unavailable to reply. Really.....what religious idiot hurt your feelings so much that they converted you into a mindless being? Lee, get a grip.

      August 7, 2010 at 7:43 pm |
    • ReMote

      I have to partially agree with Bob on this one. There are some very thoughtful and intelligent people to be found all over the world no matter what religion they may happen to follow.

      But if you were to bring the issue of gullibility into the equation the whole question becomes one of erroneous human behavior as opposed to one regarding intelligence as the main thrust.

      If you have been fooled, and fooled in an overwhelming way, the struggle to escape the trap is more than some people can take.
      The "comfort-zone" of simple-minded acceptance is very appealing to most people, and I very much doubt that there is anyone who can completely avoid it in all areas of life.

      It is very hard to admit a mistake, and harder to admit an error in judgement.
      More difficult still is admitting to oneself that religion has you duped beyond the mundane sense of the word, because a religion is more than just a belief system for some people.
      It can be a mania so strong that it cannot be faced at all, intellectually, rationally, honestly, or even humbly.

      Its harsh to condemn the gullible for being gullible, yet it is all too easy to condemn people anyway.

      When you have been overwhelmingly brainwashed your mind is no longer your own in regards to anything that will threaten the underlying "belief". Your mind shies away or becomes enraged or does other things to avoid facing the truth.

      I believe that a person needs to have a good understanding of brainwashing techniques and the effects they have on the victim in order to deal rationally with the problem.

      Have compassion for the victims, who are all too numerous at this time in history, in the name of humanity if nothing else.

      But fight the lies, fight the brainwashing, fight the misinformation and the propaganda.
      Make this world a better place. It is not impossible as far as I'm concerned.

      August 7, 2010 at 8:26 pm |
  19. Kenster

    Why do we give preferential treatment to religions in the US Tax Code? It violates the separation of church and state!

    August 6, 2010 at 2:41 pm |
    • Bob

      No no no, you misunderstand. When they're being prosecuted they run to the consitution. However, when they want to persecute someone else, suddenly it doesn't matter.

      "We're free to practice our religion and you're free to practice yours, as long as we say it's ok."

      Typical hypocricy from theists. Totally willing to dismiss other people's Gods, but enraged when theirs is denied.

      August 6, 2010 at 6:02 pm |
    • Roscoe

      Would our governmet ever be able to change that little oversight? I doubt it.

      August 6, 2010 at 10:05 pm |
    • Rev Charlie Rizzo

      The last retort of futility is mockery. Like calling someone "stupid" if they really are stupid how would they know?
      Here's the great postulation of post-modern nihilsm....There are NO absolutes. Are you sure? Absolutely!
      A Mosque at ground zero? There will be laughter in the caves and many tears elsewhere. The question is not freedom of religion. The real issue is propriety and common sense.

      August 7, 2010 at 7:33 pm |
    • Mike

      Tax breaks don't violate the separation of church and state! The constitutional issue relates to preferential treatment of one religion over another. Since all are exempt to the extemt their revenue flows from their religios purposes there is no violation. Secular organizations also share that exemption so long as their purpose is not specifically profit. And yeah I know about the United Way abuses.

      August 13, 2010 at 4:00 pm |
    • Steve Rachi

      Hello and good wishes to everyone here. As a Muslim in America I have been made fun of, called all types of horrendous names, looked at as though i was the devil himself when none of this could be farther from the truth. I Was born in Brooklyn, New York and I consider myself an American 1st even though im the son of immigrants. It truly fills my heart with sorrow to know that just because i call God a diffrent name i am considered a monster and the true enemy of America. When 9/11 happened i lost an Aunt and was filled with so much rage and anger at the people who commited the acts that I went to a Marine Corps Recruiting office to sign up and dish out some payback for my aunt (I was denied to the fact i had 3 knee surgeris) I Bleed Red, White and Blue but why is it that this amazing country constantly finds a reason to single out someone diffrent? 1st it was the natives, 2nd the asian railroad workers, third the Irish, 4th the Italians, 5th the Blacks, 6th MUSLIMS when will we learn that hate does nothing but set us back, instead of fighting amongst ourselves we need to UNITE and show the World that America is as truly beautiful we say it is.

      August 25, 2010 at 12:57 pm |
  20. Kenster

    Giving "religious" businesses a tax break violates the separation of "church and state".
    Why do we not tax all religions instead of giving them PREFERENTIAL treatment?
    Isn't this unconstitutional?

    August 6, 2010 at 2:39 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 with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.