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Religion Dispatches: Is Religious Freedom a Casualty at Ground Zero?

Author: Kambiz GhaneaBassiri, Associate Professor of Religion and Humanities, Reed College, Author of "A History of Islam in America"
August 10, 2010

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While religious pluralism was a founding ideal of the United States implicit in the 1st Amendment’s guarantee of religious freedom, Americans historically have edged toward it kicking and screaming.

New York City’s Landmark Preservation Commission’s unanimous decision on August 3, 2010, to allow plans for the construction of a mosque and community center near Ground Zero to move forward has been hailed by some as a victory for religious freedom, but it has also provided more fodder for latent anti-Muslim sentiments that have surfaced nationally since plans for the project were made public. Regardless of how one views the decision, the controversy surrounding the project is a reminder of the fact that while religious pluralism was a founding ideal of the United States implicit in the 1st Amendment’s guarantee of religious freedom, Americans historically have edged toward it kicking and screaming.

In the 19th century, it was Roman Catholicism that represented the most prominent threat to what were believed to be sacred American values. Detractors called it “Romanism” or the “popeish” religion, and the claims made against it were that it did not recognize secular authority, promoted intolerance and violence, and demanded blind obedience to its ancient doctrines. These are all charges currently made against Islam as a religion.

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