Friday, June 18, 2010
Paying Our Debts
Although some present based their protest on lack of proper public notice related to prior zoning approval, a number openly opposed the building because it would be built by an Islamic group. The pastor of a local megachurch commented, “"We have a duty to investigate anyone under the banner of Islam.” This takes the protest in a whole new direction.
We have forgotten that many people came to this country to escape a religious climate marked by distrust and oppression. In the colonies, Baptists were often persecuted because they did not want to support an established church. They were labeled as dissenters, anarchists, and heretics because of this stand. Fortunately, Baptist leaders like Roger Williams, Isaac Backus, and John Leland stood up not only for their rights but for those of others, including followers of Allah. They were not afraid of those who said, "We have a duty to investigate anyone who is a Baptist."
If someone is concerned about property values or traffic, they may have a legitimate complaint, but opposition based on religious preference alone is counter to our Constitution. Fortunately, the county planning director pointed out that under the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, a project cannot be rejected on the basis of religion.
A leader of the local Islamic community explained that many in their group were professional people who had been part of the community for over 40 years. These people are taxpayers and responsible members of the community. I have met and talked with several of them over the years and have found them to be friendly and cooperative. They deserve to build their place of worship.
Those of us who are now in the majority owe those in the minority the benefit of the doubt, but when it comes to religious freedom, our debt is to our own forebears.