Mosque Controversy

Fr. Peter Daly

Parish Diary

August 24, 2010


Fr. Peter Daly weighs in on the building of the mosque and religious liberty.


            There is a mosque in my town, located less than a mile from our parish church. Its members are good neighbors; peaceful, hard working, and patriotic.

            I have a cordial of relationship with the local Imam (leader). He is also a physician. We serve on the board of our community hospital together. I see him at meetings several times per month. He is a gentleman and a friend.

            We have exchanged gifts. I have a set of Moslem prayer beads and a Qur’an that he gave me. He has a rosary and a Bible that I gave him.

            Our faith communities live in peace.

            After September 11, 2001, the women of our communities started a group called “Daughters of Abraham” to foster dialogue between Christians, Moslems and Jews, the three Abrahamic faiths.

            Catholics who are opposed to the building of mosques, in New York City and elsewhere, should recall our own troubled arrival on the shores of the United States.

            In the 19th century, we were not welcome here. Angry mobs burned Catholic churches in major cities throughout the north east, including New York.

            People accused Catholics of the same things that are saying about Moslems today.        They said we loyal to a foreign power (the pope). They said we were seeking to institute Catholicism as the official religion of the nation and establish our law. They said we were disruptive of the public peace.

            In the 1830s and 1840s the Know Nothing party, an ancestor of current movements spread vile rumors about Catholics. They incited mobs to burn Catholic churches and convents.  In 1834 a Know Nothing mob burned the Ursuline convent in Charlestown, Massachusetts. The local police and volunteer fire brigade looked on giving tacit approval. The nuns and their students were forced to flee into the woods for their lives.

            After the fire the local bishop, considering the failure of the police to stop the arson as governmental approval, made application to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for reimbursement. A state legislature commission responded saying, “Catholics, acknowledging as they do, the supremacy of a foreign power, could not claim under our government the protection as citizens of the Commonwealth.”

            In the 1850s, the New York papers editorialized against the building of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, on Fifth Avenue. It offended their sensitivities.  

            After the Civil War the American Protective Association spread throughout the Midwest. Formed in Iowa in 1887, it had thousand of members. They were required to swear an oath not to hire Catholics, or aid in the building of any Catholic institution, or support any Catholic for pubic office.

            Catholic, above all, should support the religious freedom of Moslems. We have been where they are today.

            And Catholic should not buy into this argument about “sensitivity”. They made the same argument about our churches once. Our mere presence offended others.

            If Moslems cannot build a mosque on their private property three blocks from “ground zero,” then where can they build it so they don’t offend? Is five blocks away      enough? How about New Jersey?

            The clear implication of this “sensitivity” argument is that all Moslems are some how responsible for the atrocities of September 11, 2001. This is absurd.

            We are not at war with Islam. We are at war with terrorists.

            I do not want to be made to answer for the behavior of all billion Catholics around the world. Should Catholics be labeled terrorists because some bomb throwing member of the IRA uses our religion as a cover?

            Sensitivity is not mentioned in our Constitution. Religious liberty is.  

            Conservative commentator George Will said, “People do not have the right to go through life not being offended.” Sensitivity arguments are the source of “hate speech” law. No true conservative would accept this argument. It stifles free speech.

            Catholics who oppose the building of the mosque may have forgotten our own history. In view of our past, we should be the strongest supporters of religious liberty.