Don't deny religious freedom near Ground Zero

August 24, 2010|By Thomas F. Schaller

I applaud Thomas Schaller's thoughtful column on the current outrage over the plans for a mosque in lower Manhattan ("The problem is not Islam but orthodoxy," Commentary, Aug. 24).

He correctly noted that followers of Islam died that day, too, as office workers in the towers. I worked at Ground Zero for two months, arriving a week after the towers fell and toiling in the smoke and acrid odor to support the heavy equipment operators working on the pile. One searing memory was finding crumpled photos in the restricted zone of Ground Zero that somehow survived the inferno. The pictures were of individuals of probable Middle Eastern descent having a great time at a very American wedding. Despite the red eyes from a disposable camera, the beaming joy of the decked out men and women at this event was irresistible. I realized, however, that one or more of them could be buried beneath my feet in the smoldering debris.

Ground Zero strengthened my love for a country that has created a durable separation between church and state while permitting the free exercise of religion. I empathize with the anguish of those who lost family and friends in that attack, but our response to those who consider the slaughter of folks at work to be a holy act should be to show them what American democracy truly represents. If we start denying religious freedom under grounds of insensitivity, we have started down a very slippery slope.

Bruce Lippy, Catonsville

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