The other evening I walked by the spot  in Shockoe Slip in Richmond where Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom was approved by the Virginia General Assembly in January 1786, before the impressive and beautiful State Capitol was completed and before the U.S. Constitution established religious freedom throughout the young nation.

It’s a shame that so many U.S. politicians, media types, and other citizens need a refresher course about what freedom of religious expression means. That so many people are fulminating about the plan to build an Islamic community center a couple of blocks from Ground Zero bewilders and distresses  me, but then again, most of the histrionics are about a mosque at Ground Zero, so precise language and the truth are the first casualties. Lost in all the yapping is that Muslims have been praying in the Pentagon’s multi-denominational chapel ever since the Pentagon rebuilt after getting hit on Sept. 11th, and life, spiritual and otherwise, went on.  

Freedom of religious expression is one of our nation’s great strengths. Going backwards is not the right direction, but people like Newt Gingrich are walking and talking backwards so quickly, they don’t see where they are going.

What is being built at Ground Zero is a memorial to those who died on Sept. 11th, which makes perfect sense, and then a big office building–Freedom Tower.  Those rebuilding the site of the World Trade Center haven’t stopped businesses and retail from being a part of the rebuilding, yet critics of the Islamic community center think (that might be too strong of a word) an office building at Ground Zero is as American as apple pie  and protest something attuned to the sacred a couple of blocks away.  It would be funny if it weren’t so hurtful and ugly, and dare I say it, un-American.

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