Sheboygan, Wisconsin Mosque Issue Goes National
The issue of religious freedom for those of the Islamic faith, and their right to build mosques, has reached something of a national boiling point. It is truly one of the most bizarre and troubling matters that I have ever witnessed, as it cuts to the core of our constitutional rights. Over the past weeks the issue has simmered over the matter of a proposed mosque and learning center near ground zero in New York. On Friday President Obama made remarks that underscored the constitutional reasons Muslims can feel free to practice their religion. Those who disagreed voiced strong opposition over the weekend on radio and television.
But New York is not the only place the debate over the construction of mosques is taking place. From California to Tennessee there are those who wish to build a mosque but are meeting resistance, usually in the form of other religions who feel threatened, or politicians who wish to score a cheap point. It is clear from watching the reaction to the President’s comments that many in the nation have forgotten that the over-whelming majority of those who practice Islam are as decent as those who are blessed by a priest, or offered a handshake at the end of a holy roller service.
In Sheboygan, Wisconsin a debate over a mosque is underway. The Wall Street Journal used the issue in their larger story about the national back-and-forth over the matter. I was very heartened to see the quote the WSJ chose to use from a member of the clergy for the story.
Recently approved plans to establish a mosque in Sheboygan County, Wis., have also stirred intense feelings. Imam Mohammad Hamad, president of the Islamic Society of Sheboygan, appreciated Mr. Obama’s emphasis on religious freedom. “The issue here is not the issue of a religious building, it is an issue of the Constitution,” he said. Another Sheboygan mosque supporter, the Rev. Gregory S. Whelton, a pastor at St. John’s United Church of Christ in Sheboygan, said Mr. Obama articulated the same issues of religious tolerance that were at stake there.
“It falls right in with the middle of our debate,” he said, adding that the local debate centered on religious tolerance and opponents’ concerns that the mosque would attract extremists, a notion Rev. Whelton called “really funny.”
While he believes Muslims have a right to construct mosques anywhere, the mosque near Ground Zero is different because of the circumstances of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, he said. “To do it in light of what has happened,” he said, “I’m not sure I would agree with that. But as far as their right to do it, absolutely.”