I was on the phone with my dad and he asked me what I thought about the controversy surrounding the mosque being built near Ground Zero. I told him that I am a firm believer in property rights and religious freedom -- and that those two things are some of the core values of American society. So, under that analysis, if they own the property and have the right zoning then they can build whatever they want there.
I also believe that there's a great deal of room between "what you are legally permitted to do" and "what you ought to do." Ethics, not to mention good taste and good judgment, is a gray area. As a society, we've never been particularly effective at legislating morals, and yet, the politicians and pundits keep talking about it.
Now, admittedly, I might not have lived in lower Manhattan on 9/11, but back then, I lived close enough to the Pentagon that my apartment was filled with smoke. And while I'm not reflexively offended by the idea of a mosque being built in the vicinity, I can understand why others might be. Should that offense be mitigated -- at least somewhat -- by the idea that the project is a religious center for a mainstream sect that disagree with the fundamentalist leanings that led to the attacks, and intends it as a memorial of-sorts? Maybe, maybe not. On the other hand, can the decision to build at that spot be viewed as a bit callous and insensitive, and perhaps worse? Like Shakespeare said, "If to do were as easy as to know what were good to do, chapels had been churches, and poor men's cottages princes' palaces."
But then I read that one of the things that they're planning on building at Ground Zero -- not near, but at -- is, essentially, an underground shopping mall. That offends me at least as much -- probably more -- than any mosque being built in the neighborhood. The idea of swarms of tourists buying t-shirts and tchochkes on the very site of the attacks makes my skin crawl. But who's railing against those developers? Minority religious expression is bad, but offensive and tacky consumerism is the status quo, I suppose.
So, I'm back to where I started. If they own the property and have the right zoning and permits and the city gives them the go-ahead, it's no longer a legal issue. They can build whatever they want. What they should build is a matter of judgment, and that's between them and their conscience. The politicians and pundits need to keep their mouths shut and focus on real issues.