August 20th, 2010
12:36 PM ET

My take: Why aren't more Mormons supporting Islamic Center?

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

When America’s leading Republicans started to ratchet up the rhetoric over the Islamic community center and mosque near Ground Zero, I immediately thought of my former governor Mitt Romney.

In 2007, when he was running for the Republican nomination for president, Romney gave a speech that I described at the time as “an instant classic in American civil religion." In "Faith in America," he spoke glowingly of religious liberty and the separation of church and state. He also said he had himself learned much not only from Catholics, evangelicals and Jews but also from “the commitment to frequent prayer of the Muslims.”

Romney also chastised earlier Americans, however, for failing to live up to the promises of the First Amendment. Where Reagan had referred to this country as a “shining city on the hill” for all the world to see, Romney said it was important to remember that the United States has also been a place of religious bigotry.

The Puritans arrived in the New World seeking religious liberty, he said. “But upon finding it for themselves,” they “denied it to others.” This bigotry exiled Ann Hutchinson from the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and drove Brigham Young and other pioneering Mormons onto their westward trek to Utah.

As I wrote in my 2007 piece on this speech, for Romney, the moral of this history lesson was clear:

Americans today should rise above religious bigotry, not least by evaluating presidential candidates on the basis of their credentials instead of their religious tradition. After all, Romney said, “Religious tolerance would be a shallow principle indeed if it were reserved only for faiths with which we agree.”

These were the words that came to me when Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin and other Republican leaders started to double down on the anti-Islamic rhetoric.

I thought that Romney, as a Mormon, might speak out passionately for the First Amendment. I thought he might remember how the founder of his religion, Joseph Smith Jr., was murdered by an anti-Mormon mob. I thought he might recall how the U.S. government brought down much of its coercive power against the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the last decades of the nineteenth century.

Apparently not.  According to a statement released on August 10 by his spokesperson Eric Fehrnstrom, “Governor Romney opposes the construction of the mosque at Ground Zero. The wishes of the families of the deceased and the potential for extremists to use the mosque for global recruiting and propaganda compel rejection of this site."

More recently, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, also a Mormon, opened the floodgates for what will likely be a steady stream of Democratic equivocation on this important issue. "The First Amendment protects freedom of religion," Reid’s spokesman Jim Manley said in an August 16 statement. "Sen. Reid respects that but thinks that the mosque should be built some place else.”

One of the realities of robust religious liberty in the United States is that members of minority religions grow complacent over the years.

When Catholics see Muslims denounced as dangers to America, foreigners following the dictates of foreign law, they think “them” rather than “us,” forgetting the burning of their convent in Charlestown, Massachusetts, in 1834 by anti-Catholic mobs.

When Mormons see Muslims as a group found guilty of the atrocities of September 11, 2001, they think "them" rather than "us," forgetting how Mormons as a group were found guilty of the atrocities of September 11, 1857, when Mormon vigilantes attacked a wagon train of Arkansas emigrants to the Utah territory, killing some 120 innocent men, women, and children.

Perhaps I am wrong for holding Mormons to some higher standard, but I do. I believe that members of a religious group that has been persecuted almost to extinction should stand up and speak out when Newt Gingrich starts likening Muslims to Nazis and Tea Party advocates start referring to Islam as a cult. At a minimum, religious minorities should not fall into the Puritan trap of demanding religious freedom for themselves while denying it to others.

That is why I found the opposition of Abraham Foxman and the Anti-Defamation League to the Park51 project so dispiriting, and why I find the recent statements of Reid and Romney both sad and shameful.

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

soundoff (170 Responses)
  1. Molly

    Except, I am only focusing on Islam and the mosque site. Now if you want to discuss LDS, well, I can't get past Mountain Meadows. The "second Great Awakening" in America ending thirty years later on a far meadow where immigrants were disarmed as friends and then murdered. What can one say. Evil deeds are often done in the name of acting out the will of God.
    But LDS is not proposing a tabernacle in the lower Manhattan financial center, where their brothers massacred 2000 people, and now want to build something for themselves. We have tried to overcome our shock and trauma from 8/11 but the idea of the mosque and 'freedom of religion' does seem a slap in the face for our country, which has tried to welcome them in spite of it all.

    August 21, 2010 at 10:13 pm |
  2. jedmerill


    They still lie, have an over developed since of entitlement, are narcissist, cruel, harm their families, harm other peoples family, lie, harm other people's children, greedy butts will harm their own children, lie, are cruel. lie, greedy, lie, corrupt our court system, lie, miss use power and influence, lie, make up false stories, lie, batter people, lie, -
    got it Romney?

    August 21, 2010 at 6:24 pm |
  3. jedmerill

    Molly first of all, the history of American immigration. This is what happens, and the Mormon church is seeing it also, that is why so many have left. The Moron church is a bit different since it was an American treasure seekers invention, based on a fallen Mason. 🙂

    1. first generation will remain in a close and tight community, ( happened with the Irish, the German, the polish, etc.)
    2. second generation – tough to be here, the sandwich generation – some will leave, some will stay due to family and tradition, and they will be strife with some of the children-
    3. more movement, more assimilation –

    This is not different that what one will see with the Seek, with the Hindi, eventually it will be come a different version a bit of a different twist, than the one in the old world.

    And look how many Mormon's are bringing out the fact of the Mormon church high level members being involved in the enhanced tortures, and the Utah guy, with his site dead man walking who feels the church will have him killed for writing up about Bishop Wallly Hilliard and training some of hte 9-11 people at his airfield, along with the LDS church bribing with Rolex watches in Cuba for a huge cattle ranch LDS Inc. wants to buy.

    By the way the Mormon church in it's early day, believed in beheading people, throat cutting, spilling of blood, killing people who did not agree and lying - so who are they to say anything about anyone. The Quakers have more of a right! So do the Amish!!!

    August 21, 2010 at 6:19 pm |
  4. Molly

    Well Jeff62, do you think it's one dimensional that the imam who wants to build the Cordoba House (Cordoba; site in Moslem Spain) also wants US law to be "In accordance w/ Sharia". These "laws" are the most insensitive and cruel customs anywhere since Ghengis Khan. It's hard to ascribe the term 'spiritual' to this totalitarian mindset.
    Billionaire Imam is currently travelling in Bahrain talking about Islam in America. Yes. I am limited in perspective
    But it is what they show us .

    August 21, 2010 at 5:52 pm |
  5. John

    It's hard for me to imagine outspoken proponents of one faith loudly advocating tolerance for another faith. I'm not saying it's never happened, I just can't remember ever seeing it.

    August 21, 2010 at 5:00 pm |
  6. Daniel

    Not all Mormons are against the ground zero center. I'm Mormon and I agree that not allowing the center would be a horrific violation of the first amendment. There are a lot more Mormons in the world than just Mitt Romney (like Harry Reid). Please don't pigeonhole us.

    August 21, 2010 at 1:33 pm |
    • SarahP

      But will the Muslim's get their own planet? The men only of course.

      August 21, 2010 at 1:54 pm |
    • jedmerill

      pssst... don't tell them that......you will knock them off their delusions –

      August 21, 2010 at 6:08 pm |
  7. SarahP

    No more Catholic Churches near schools.

    August 21, 2010 at 1:31 pm |
    • jedmerill

      and no more Mormon churches near where ANY people are children live. Yikes! how vicious they are when they want to cover up something!

      August 21, 2010 at 6:06 pm |
  8. Jeff62

    Your take seems somewhat limited in perspective and single dimensional. I will let Mormon scholar of Islam Daniel Peterson explain it for you:
    Daniel Peterson, a politically conservative Mormon who has studied Islam for 30 years at Brigham Young University and in the Middle East, says he is so fed up with “demagoguery” from the mosque’s opponents that he is tempted to endorse the mosque.

    And yet he, and several Utah faith leaders, separate the issue of religious freedom from another value held highly in a pluralistic society: respect.

    “Of course they have a right to do it,” says Peterson, professor of Islamic studies and Arabic at BYU.

    But if the mosque’s proponents refuse to heed the torrent of criticism that it’s insensitive to build a mosque near where Muslim extremists killed thousands, Peterson adds, it could hurt the cause of moderate Muslims.

    “I would come forward if I were the imam, and say, ‘We’ve listened, we do not want to make enemies. We want to be good neighbors. We respect the feelings and the pain, so we’re going to seek another site.’”

    I see nothing bigtoted in the stance that is bigoted. But I do see your view of history, both the public response to 9-11 (which did not condemn Muslims) and other issues as somewhat lacking in depth of research or thought. More is the pity.

    August 21, 2010 at 1:15 pm |
    • Jeff62

      Source for Peterson comment.


      August 21, 2010 at 1:16 pm |
    • JefMerrill

      another BYU professor to fall! Taking on LDS elite. Romney is a dirt bag. Soon there will be an association of fallen BYU professors who are educated enough to can't take it anymore!

      August 21, 2010 at 6:05 pm |
  9. Historyscoper

    The real question about Islam is why all Christians, Jews, and atheists don't unite to oppose any and every assertion of Muslim superiority on American soil, the GZ Mosque being #1. If they didn't insist on that location, but that's just it, it's about Muslim superiority and they'll never relent, because Muslims know the historic significance, which is why they named it Cordoba, as a symbol of the future Sharia takover of the American continent. I'm paranoid? Christendom and Judaism had their bad sides too? Sorry, but Islam never went through a reformation like Christendom and Judaism did, and for a reason: the Quran commands union of mosque and state and the control of the govt. by Muslim superiority Sharia, with the total authority of Allah, and no Muslim has the authority to countermand him. Yes, many have tried, starting with Kemal Ataturk of Turkey, but year by year the so-called fundamentalists who insist on the absolute authority of the Quran and Muslim superiority Sharia are winning the debate. Hence, Islam is a not just a religion but a political ideology, one that is at war with the basic principles of the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights, and subject to govt. controls including banning, deportation of adherents,etc., no different than other political ideologies like Communism and Fascism where adherents seek to subvert the govt. or have loyalties to a foreign power, in this case the Muslim Umma based in Mecca. Too bad, our president paints Islam as a harmless and even perfect religion, leaving our nation open to infiltration by any Muslim claiming not to be an "extremist", which will probably end up bad and lead to a reaction. Don't stay in lalaland, get a clue and spend some time studying the little known history of Islam instead of trying to pontificate based on ignorance of the unpleasant but true facts about its long long track record that threaten our future. Try the Historyscoper's free online Islam history course, just Google to reach it.

    August 21, 2010 at 12:17 pm |
  10. Jordan

    This Mormon supports the NY Muslim community. To equate this community with the terrorists would be to equate the NY Mormon community with Warren Jeffs, or the NY Catholic community with pedophile priests. And if 2-5 blocks (depending on how you measure) is too close to build the community center, how far away suddenly makes it acceptable – 6? 10? 20 blocks? It's already out of sight of Ground Zero.
    Muslims have every right to build this center to support the community, and the backlash against them is despicable.

    August 21, 2010 at 11:04 am |
  11. Molly

    Could there be a more sensational location? White house lawn? Veterans memorials? Bunker Hill? The Alamo?Pearl Harbor? Yes, we support the Muslims having uplifting places to worship anywhere, but is the suggested location very near the site of nationally televised halocaust in good taste? And why do the folks leading this charge want that particular location anyway? Afterall, it's not a little neighborhood, it's the financial district.

    August 21, 2010 at 8:12 am |
    • Rich

      Maybe you've never been to NYC, but there are mosques all over the place, and many of them are already near ground zero! The proposed one is down the street from ground zero, not even within viewing distance. This is all just a silly fake-controversy made up by Fox News and Glenn Beck, to use hatred as a tool to win elections in November. Also, it boggles my mind that anyone thinks the 1.57 billion muslims in the world should be held responsible for the actions of a few crazy people who happened also to be muslim. This anti-mosque argument is morally reprehensible, unconstitutional, and definitely against everything I've ever been taught in the Mormon church. It's the antithesis of what I tried to do on my Mormon mission for two years. Mormons who believe this nonsense should really be ashamed of themselves (as should anyone else).

      "I question the integrity of any Christian who ignores what Christ said about loving their neighbors (And who is my neighbor?) "

      Your neighbors are these muslims who are trying to build a place of worship to pray to God. And they should do it wherever they want, without politicians meddling in their affairs for their own personal gain. Glenn Beck is the opposite of our religion - please stop listening to him!

      August 29, 2010 at 1:38 am |
  12. US Army Vet

    Dear Mr. Todd Smith
    Do you honestly believe the CIA and Israel worked collectively with the Saudi's on the 9/11 massacre? The Muslims who died are revered as martyrs for their faith. Muslims ubiquitously commit violent atrocities against innocent victims daily. Don't be foolish. Do some legitimate reading and investigate the truth for yourself.

    August 21, 2010 at 6:00 am |
  13. Jed Merrill

    I don't see where the Baptist church was involved. Some of the training was done at Mormon Bishop Wally Hilliard air strip, and tons of Mormons were involved in creating and approving the enhanced tortures.

    August 21, 2010 at 2:48 am |
  14. Todd Smith

    To be sensitive about the victims sound ridicilous......firstly, it would probably be better if they continue putting strip bars, GAY bars, etc. all around it but not a place of worship!! There were at least 200 muslims killed as well, what about their feelings??? Also who was behind the killings....well, let's see, CIA for sure, Israel fir definite, and the Saudi pupets probably!! The Zionist Jews which control eveything from Hollywood to every TV station, and greedy corps backed up by the Israeli neocon & Baptist church orchestrated the whole thing and whilst we are pondering if Muslims are good or bad they are raping us every minute and making billions in process....For all the good people who support the Mosque, May GOD be with you for your compassion and humanity..you are above all these igniorant, stupid, fools who do not know jack about anything but Sarah Palin...

    August 21, 2010 at 2:39 am |
  15. Stephen

    I am a Mormon and I support the right of them to build a place of community gathering or worship as they may see fit and land that they own and have appropriately developed. I think it is probably not a good choice on their part as it seems to be upsetting a lot of people and leading to more misunderstanding than any good that might follow from it. But in thus country we are a nation of laws that do not change merely because a group is viewed with suspicion and garners the ill-will of the masses. I think all people who believe in the constitution and what this country stands for have a duty to support all people in the exercise of their constitutional rights of worship and peaceful assembly. If we do not support others in their rights our time will come and we will be found likewise without support in consequence of the culture of lawlessness that indifference to the persecution of the weak helps propagate.

    August 21, 2010 at 1:14 am |
  16. Paddy Mac

    I'm curious as to why American Muslims do not take the word "infidel" out of their vocabulary and their Koran. The word is just as offensive to all Americans as the word "nigger" is to blacks - as it should be. Absent the use of the word "infidel", the Muslim religion could, indeed, be looked upon as peaceful rather than seeing all the suras of the Koran that say to "Kill the infidel".

    August 20, 2010 at 11:24 pm |
  17. Murdock

    Mr. Prothero

    I am a Mormon and I agree with you 100%. Mormons should be held to a higher standard as to religious liberty. I wish Mitt Romney had met the standard.


    August 20, 2010 at 11:21 pm |
  18. David

    Thank you for this article. First, full discloser, I'm a devout Mormon and very conservative, but as I read the arguments of those opposing the mosque, I really don't see the merit behind it. We worry about offending the families of those who died in 9/11, right? Okay, but how does building this mosque offend them? Nobody seems willing to say it, but it seems like the only way those families can be offended is if they're incapable of distinguishing between Islam and terrorism. Let's give them a bit more credit than that.

    Finally, the way the "questionable connections" argument has been construed is a joke. You can form a similar argument against anyone and anything with that line of reasoning.

    Basically, I think we all need to really look at our own intentions. Are we afraid of Muslims? Are we afraid of those who are different than us? If so, we need to stop yelling at each other and learn to root out our own irrational fears.

    August 20, 2010 at 9:35 pm |
  19. Lexi

    If the Mormon Church had decided to build a temple/ LDS-run community center on the site where the Mountain Meadows Massacre took place, then you might have an analogous example worth debating. As it stands, the LDS Church built a memorial site for the fallen victims...it is a neutral ground for any and all to recognize and remember the innocent who were killed. Could you even imagine what kind of statement it would send to the families of the fallen victims at M.M. if the Church were to build there?

    If the LDS Church were to choose to build a temple or even a church building at the site, not only would there be a huge uproar and opposition by the majority, but it would also go against everything that we believe as far as following the example of Jesus Christ and respecting and loving others. The Islamic creed is very similar to our beliefs regarding peace, mercy, justice, tolerance, equality, love, respect, and truth. It seems far from peaceful and respectful to build the Park51 center so near to where nearly 3000 Americans (including some of their own) were killed.

    Upon visiting the Mountain Meadows memorial, Gordon B. Hinckley, then president of the Church declared,"We owe [the dead] respect... that land is sacred ground. He also stated, "[The past] cannot be recalled. It cannot be changed. It is time to leave the entire matter in the hands of God." I

    August 20, 2010 at 9:11 pm |
    • Jed Merrill

      You also paint too grand a picture - read the real truth about Gordon B. Hinkley and Mountain Meadows. At the link below


      August 20, 2010 at 9:44 pm |
    • Lexi

      Could you give me the link to an unbiased, objective site?

      August 20, 2010 at 10:45 pm |
    • Jed Merrill

      Lexi, I take it your like FARMS better and want people to think that is objective? Frank Kirkman's site is objective, there are Mormons who know the truth which are on that site. Romney is still into telling big lies, and their family will never change.

      August 21, 2010 at 2:45 am |
    • Mel

      Lexi, you are correct about the current monument at MMM. There were previous ones. You probably are not aware of them, or you would not have posted this.

      August 21, 2010 at 11:23 pm |
  20. Keith

    Just read a story from NYDailyNews.com. Union construction worker are refusing to build the mosque if it remains at the same address. Way to go union brothers! I knew I wasn't the only one who has a memory like the lifespan of a fruitfly. To hell with islam. To hell with political correctness. This now pits Obama against those who support him politically. Need to get me one of those hard hat stickers. Awesome!

    August 20, 2010 at 8:27 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.