How about a mosque at ‘Ground Zero’ Plymouth?

Pilgrims and native Americans celebrate Thanksgiving.If the Muslims had landed on Plymouth Rock in 1620 instead of the Pilgrims … there would be no furor about a “Ground Zero mosque.” Because in 1620, the Muslims could have made their faith the official faith of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, as the Puritans did.

  • They could have made membership in their congregations a requirement to vote in civic elections, as the Puritans did.
  • They could have charged all citizens – members of the congregations or not – taxes for the support of the clergy and the congregations, as the Puritans did.
  • And they could have arrested citizens who “absented themselves from the Ordinances of Publicke Worshipe,” as the Puritans did.

 But since the Pilgrims got here first, it was their Puritan Congregational Church that got to harass, tax, arrest, and expel Baptists and Quakers and Jews.

Ironically, it was neither Thomas Jefferson’s “wall of separation” nor the First Amendment, that changed the system. It was tax politics. But that’s a different story.

In the meantime, read the First Amendment carefully:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof …”

At the time the First Amendment was signed, Massachusetts was one of two states with what are called established churches – official state churches, supported by taxes. And the First Amendment was carefully worded such that Congress could not make any law that would interfere with those official state churches. The Congregational Church lost its preferential status in Connecticut in 1818; in Massachusetts (which for most of this period included what is now Maine) in 1830.

So as often as later legal decisions would cite that “wall of separation” phrase, this concept is simply not in the First Amendment.

But there were no imams, no Muslims, no mosque at Plymouth. And today, we’re as anxious about Muslims as I’d have been about Puritans in 1620.

No one worries about anyone freely exercising their personal right to worship. But everyone seems to be terrified of a religious movement that dares to call us decadent. That has standards and expectations. That might want to see some things change in the way our culture looks and behaves.

Not every Muslim is a fundamentalist. But even moderate Muslims often live by codes that we consider ourselves to have “advanced” beyond. Daughters are chaperoned. Men move in groups, or with their families. At a time when our own social scientists are beginning to wonder what happens to children who grow up surrounded by pornography – on-line, on every TV, in every magazine, on every billboard – Muslim immigrants are “just saying no” to what our way of life has become.

And it frightens us. Because if there were more of them and fewer of us, life might become less like what we’ve become used to.

Should there be a mosque two blocks from Ground Zero? I’m not ready to say. Whether a mosque is built there or not, a growing number of Muslims live and work nearby, according to codes of behavior that our nation has long forgotten.

The bigger question is: Having spent a couple decades in political battle with a Religious Right that we half understood (because they grew up in America), are we prepared to go toe-to-toe with a Religious Right that we don’t understand at all?

Copyright (c) 2010 Carlene Byron

About Carlene Byron

Writer, editor, publicist, communications project manager ... I've written technology and infrastructure; I used to edit New England Church Life and The New England Christian and I've freelanced to publications ranging from Commonweal to Christianity Today. I'm now living in my hometown in Maine and am speaking about global perspectives on suicide prevention.
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2 Responses to How about a mosque at ‘Ground Zero’ Plymouth?

  1. hisfool says:

    Good article … should there be a mosque at ground zero? According to our Constitution, provided they meet all the code requirements, they have the right to do so. I think it shows a lack of sensitivity and extremely bad taste, but they have the right to offend and alienate anyone they want.

    Now if funding is proven to come from sources opposed to this nation, that is a whole other can of worms.

  2. Good points, in particular regarding the issues raised if fund sources are iffy. Thanks for taking time to comment.

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