Cover-up: Conservatives now pretending they never attacked Muslims' religious freedom

››› ››› ERIC SCHROECK

Right-wing media have responded to President Obama's comments that he "believe[s] that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country" by falsely claiming that opponents of the proposed Islamic community center in Lower Manhattan have not talked about restricting Muslims' religious freedom. In fact, opponents have advocated using government intervention to restrict construction of the center or have asserted that the planners don't have a right to build it at the proposed location.

Conservative media: Mosque opponents not talking about restricting religious freedom

Fox's Johnson: "I don't think anyone is talking about" restricting "the free exercise and practice of religion." On the August 16 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, Peter Johnson Jr. discussed Obama's comments and stated of opposition to the planned Islamic cultural center in Lower Manhattan: "Clearly, there's an unassailable, black-letter, red-line rule in American thought and American constitutional history about the free exercise and practice of religion. I don't think anyone is talking about that. But now the president is talking about the wisdom of putting the mosque at that particular site."

NRO: "[N]o reasonable opponent of the project contests the right of Muslims to worship as they please in this country." In an August 16 editorial, National Review Online stated that "no reasonable opponent of the project contests the right of Muslims to worship as they please in this country -- the First Amendment religious rights of Muslims never have been in question, at all." NRO further wrote: "The critics insist only that this particular location for a project led by these particular people -- including an imam who cannot bring himself to condemn Hamas -- is unseemly and ill-considered. That position in no way implies a disregard for the First Amendment."

Geller: "No one has suggested abridging the first amendment to stop the mosque." In an August 13 blog post, Pamela Geller wrote: "Obama knows this is not about religious liberty. No one has suggested abridging the first amendment to stop the mosque. There are hundreds of mosques in New York, thousands in America. This is not a religious issue. This is a national security issue."

WSJ: "Even opponents of the mosque concede" that government does not have right to stop construction of the community center. In an August 15 editorial responding to Obama's comments, The Wall Street Journal wrote: "The government has no right to stop imam Feisal Abdul Rauf from developing the abandoned Burlington Coat Factory at 51 Park Place into a 13-story complex of classrooms, auditoriums and a mosque under the name of Cordoba House. Even opponents of the mosque concede this point."

Beck: "There is no constitutional argument over whether Muslims have the right to practice their religion." On the August 16 edition of his Fox News show, Beck criticized President Obama's statement in favor of the "right that people have" to build a mosque where they choose, claiming that "there is no constitutional argument over whether Muslims have the right to practice their religion." Beck continued:

That's ridiculous. It's America. We all have a right to follow God and build our houses of worship. All Americans are clear on that, and if they're not, those are the dummies. What is at issue is the wisdom of this mosque, in the place of this mosque, and with the imam of this -- and the funding of this mosque.

Krauthammer: "We all agree on the legality" of building the center. On the August 16 edition of Fox News' Special Report, contributor Charles Krauthammer commented on President Obama's statement "addressing the legality of" building the Islamic cultural center. Krauthammer claimed that in fact, Obama was "not addressing anything" because "[w]e all agree on the legality. It's the propriety, the decency of this" that matters.

O'Reilly: "President Obama is framing this as a freedom of religion deal, but that's not what this is about." On the August 16 edition of The O'Reilly Factor, Bill O'Reilly claimed that "President Obama is framing this as a freedom of religion deal, but that's not what it's about." O'Reilly added, "this is not about legalisms, it's about sensitivity towards thousands of Americans who lost loved ones in the 9-11 attack."

Palin: "Nobody argues that freedom of religion that the Muslims have to build that mosque somewhere." On the August 16 edition of On the Record with Greta Van Susteren, Fox News contributor Sarah Palin claimed that "[n]obody argues that freedom of religion that the Muslims have to build that mosque somewhere." Palin then argued that "there are a hundred mosques already in New York" and that "to chose and be so adamant about this exact location, just a block or two away from 9-11, again, is that knife" in the heart of Americans. Palin also asked "if the purpose of this mosque is to create this tolerant environment ... you have to ask, why didn't one of those one hundred mosques already accomplish such a thing?"

Santorum: "This has nothing to do with someone's right to build a mosque." Also on the August 16 edition of On the Record, Fox News contributor Rick Santorum suggested that the debate over the proposed Islamic center "has nothing to do with someone's right to build a mosque." Santorum continued by saying that "we have religious freedom in this country, and as long as you comport with the zoning laws, you can build a mosque." He later claimed that "if this was an affront to our unshakable belief in religious freedom, his [Obama's] position would be, they should build it." Santorum added that "people aren't saying that they can't build it. They're saying that the prudence would say that they shouldn't build it."

But mosque opponents have advocated for government intervention to stop construction of the center

NY gubernatorial candidate said he would appoint commission members who oppose plan to build the community center. As NRO's Josh Barro noted, "[C]onservative figures have continued to push creative ideas to throw red tape at the mosque." Barro highlighted New York Republican gubernatorial candidate Rick Lazio's pledge to appoint members to New York's Public Service Commission who oppose the community center and would block the sale of the property to the center's organizers.

Mosque opponents wanted landmarks commission to prevent mosque project from advancing. The New York Times reported on August 3 that "the project received its final city approval when the landmarks commission voted 9 to 0 to deny granting historic protection to the building in Lower Manhattan where the $100 million center would be constructed." The report noted:

Opponents, who have turned out in large numbers to speak out against the plan at public hearings this summer, seemed resigned to losing the vote, and few showed up to protest. After the commission voted, scattered members of the audience shouted "Shame on you!" and "Disgrace!" One woman carried a sign reading, "Don't Glorify Murders of 3,000; No 9/11 Victory Mosque."

The New York Observer reported that Lazio appeared at the hearing to "urge the commission to grant landmark status" to the building currently at the site and "he acknowledged that this discussion must take place in the context of the proposed mosque."

ACLJ filed lawsuit to block construction of center. After the New York City Landmarks Commission voted that the building at which organizers plan to construct the community center did not qualify for landmark status, Newsday reported that the conservative American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) "argued in papers filed in New York State Supreme Court that the commission's decision was invalid because it violated its own rules and procedures in part by failing to allow sufficient public input."

Wash. Examiner: "Can there be a higher civic purpose than preventing construction of a Muslim propaganda and recruiting center so close to the murder site of 3,000 Americans?" In an August 13 editorial, The Washington Examiner asked, "Can there be a higher civic purpose than preventing construction of a Muslim propaganda and recruiting center so close to the murder site of 3,000 Americans?" The Examiner further stated:

Local governments everywhere in America routinely regulate location and construction of religious facilities without impinging on the First Amendment right to worship. There are also volumes of federal, state and local historic preservation laws that could be invoked to force GZM to a different site. We hope Bloomberg accepts Newt Gingrich's invitation to debate this issue. Maybe then the mayor will explain why he disdains historic preservation of the area immediately around the site of the worst domestic attack in American history.

Wash. Examiner op-ed: "The federal government has at its disposal dozens of land preservation methods that could delay or even halt development of the Islamic center." In an August 11 Washington Examiner op-ed opposing the community center, Cheryl K. Chumley wrote that "[t]he federal government has at its disposal dozens of land preservation methods that could delay or even halt development of the Islamic center." From the op-ed:

Instead of decrying, condemning and reproving, politicians like Rep. Peter King, D-N.Y., who called the mosque project "particularly offensive," have opportunity to take action.

The federal government has at its disposal dozens of land preservation methods that could delay or even halt development of the Islamic center.

King, for instance, could introduce legislation extending the National Memorial designation currently affixed to the World Trade Center Site and in so doing, have a say in future development. Congress and the interior secretary could set the wheels in motion to preserve the property under the Historic Sites Act of 1935, a federal code that allows the National Park Service to "restore, reconstruct, rehabilitate, preserve and maintain" properties of historical significance.

Or, Congress could introduce legislation to expand the boundaries of the coincidentally close-by Hudson River Valley National Heritage Area, or NHA, a preservation tag that runs from New York City to Albany.

Opponents have also claimed that community center organizers don't have a right to build it at planned location

Gingrich: "Nazis don't have a right to put up a sign next to the Holocaust museum" ... "There's no reason for us to accept a mosque next to the World Trade Center." On the August 16 edition of Fox & Friends, Fox News contributor Newt Gingrich said that "[p]eople have the right to free religion if they want it. I've said it openly, if they want to build this mosque in the South Bronx, I'm all for it." He later stated: "Nazis don't have the right to put up a sign next to the Holocaust museum in Washington. We would never accept the Japanese putting up a site next to Pearl Harbor. There's no reason for us to accept a mosque next to the World Trade Center."

Sekulow: "[Y]ou don't get to build a mosque on a site that's part of Ground Zero." On the July 22 edition of Fox News' Hannity (accessed via Nexis), the ACLJ's Jay Sekulow stated his opposition to the Islamic community center and said, "[Y]ou don't get to build a mosque on a site that's part of ground zero."

Limbaugh: "[T]he Constitution does not guarantee you can put your church anywhere you want it." On his nationally syndicated radio show, Rush Limbaugh stated: "If you're going to bring the First Amendment into it, that's where your argument's going to fall apart. There are 23 mosques in New York. The government -- the Constitution does not guarantee you can put your church anywhere you want it. It just says you cannot be denied the practice of worship."

Richard Land: People "have the right to have these mosques" but "don't have the right to have them any particular place they want them." On Public Radio International's To the Point, the Southern Baptist Convention's Richard Land stated that people "do have the right to have these mosques. Now, they don't have the right to have them any particular place they want them. You know, the Supreme Court in the [City of] Boerne [v. Flores] decision said that a Catholic church couldn't expand because of the objections of the historical district that it would bother the historical nature of the town square in Boerne."

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