On August 20, Representative Thaddeus McCotter of Michigan called in to the Dennis Miller radio show to explain his stance on the building of a mosque in Manhattan. Here’s what he said:
Dennis Miller: Well then, for the first time, utter to people what you make of the mosque at ground zero.
Thad McCotter: Well, it’s obvious that Americans have trouble getting their minds around the nature of the conflict in which we’re engaged, because the enemy has a religious point of view. I think we could argue rightly that it’s an apostate version of Islam that is exploiting that. But to the American mindset, which has been raised on religious tolerance, it is just anathema to us. It’s not an ideology like fascism or communism. And so they have difficulty with it, and I think this is one of the things that is happening with the situation.
As I’ve talked about on Detroit radio, which you obviously were not listening to, I pointed out that because you have a right to do something in America, you can also have a concomitant responsibility not to do it, okay, not to exercise that right. And I think what we’re seeing in New York, which I think is rightly being handled in New York rather than in Washington, is they’re trying to make the determination. No one is arguing over the religious freedom aspect of it; it’s a question of whether this is a responsible action that will facilitate understanding or not. And I think that’s a determination that is causing people to consider the same question throughout the country. And it’s causing, in many ways, some very heated dialogue, which I think doesn’t help.
I think as the debate gets more heated it becomes more difficult for the reasoned voices to enter into it. I think what you’re putting your finger on is the fact that so many Americans realize that understanding is a two-way street. Remember, the United States was attacked by people exploiting, expropriating the name of Islam, and the United States has done very much to show that it is not going to cast a wide net and not blame people that are actually being abused in the process more than anyone. And so when the United States citizens see this, and admit that there’s a right to this, but that it’s not the responsible thing to do, they’re saying that understanding has to be a two-way street and there has to be dialogue here, rather than insisting that because you have a right to do something, you’re going to do whatever you want regardless.
Thad McCotter is factually misstaken when he declares that “no one is arguing over the religious freedom aspect of it;” there is actually a fervent effort to ban mosques not just in Manhattan but in different places across New York State and across the nation.
But notably, Rep. McCotter has taken a step away from those forces in his warning that people are getting overheated about the issue and in his repeated declaration that organizers have every right to build a mosque where they please. It’s a first amendment right to freedom of assembly and religious expression, written down long ago in the U.S. Constitution. McCotter does not declare that such a mosque should be banned; he only offers his opinion that the choice to build a mosque in lower Manhattan isn’t wise. If the Park51 (containing a mosque but not itself a mosque) organizers’ goal was to cool down inter-religious tensions, McCotter just might have a point.
People have a right to build mosques in America; people also have the right to declare their opinions on mosques. More responsibly than many of his Republican colleagues in Congress, Thaddeus McCotter has reaffirmed the first right, while exercising that second prerogative.