Mosque

Mosque at Ground Zero Hundreds of mosques exist in the state of New York, and the first Islamic center in New York City was built in the 1890’s. The proposed Park51 Islamic Community Center is a private and abandoned building three blocks away from Ground Zero. The project includes a basketball court, fitness center, theater, bookstore, and separate prayer rooms for other faiths. The preceding important information should be made available to the public through television and print advertisements sponsored by the New York City planning department. I agree with Mayor Bloomberg’s assessment that “this (controversy) is not unique to our time. We have seen this before in relation to the building of synagogues in the mid 1650’s.” The three core principles surrounding the resolution of the Park51 controversy include deliberation, political equality, and mass participation. A deliberative democracy is a political decision-making process relying heavily on public deliberation. James Bohman states that democratic theorists regularly discuss public deliberation without properly defining deliberation. I define deliberation as careful, lengthy, and thoughtful consideration by a group. In Trilemma of Democratic Reform, Fishkin defines deliberation as “the process by which individuals sincerely weigh the merits of competing arguments in discussions together.” Fishkin argues legitimate lawmaking can only arise through high quality public deliberation in “good conditions for thinking about public issues.” The emotional fourhour “Listening to the City” meeting exemplifies high quality public deliberation resulting in the approval of the Park51 project. The purpose of deliberation is to find reasons acceptable to all participants. Regarding the planned mosque near Ground Zero, Manhattan citizens should be consulted, and “dialogue in a civil and respectful way. (Bloomberg)” Combining direct democracy and representative democracy, Fishkin employs the principle of deliberation in search of a logically motivated consensus. The Mayor of New York appoints employees of the planning department, and these employees ought to be a representative sample of the local community. The planning commission is accountable to the New York Mayor and City Council. I would organize the decision-making process through a town-hall style meeting involving the local planning department. I define local citizens as Manhattan residents. This constituency of local citizens ought to have equal political access to voice their reasoning

publicly at the city-planning meeting, because local citizens are directly affected by the outcome. Other groups that should be included in deliberation include project developers, families of 9/11 victims, and city planners. There should be a diversity of viewpoints and a limit on the number of persons deciding the Park51 controversy in order to avoid the tyranny of the majority. Knight and Johnson discuss the principle of political equality and argue individuals lose anonymity when speaking during deliberation. Knight and Johnson argue for substantive equality, which I define as the equal opportunity of political influence. In a deliberative democracy, citizens must make their reasoning publicly accessible to others, especially those who may disagree. Even though public opinion largely opposed the project, it is my contention that no publicly reasonable arguments exist for rejecting Park51. The controversial project ought to move forward if it does not directly violate any federal, state, local or zoning laws. Tensions and trade-offs exist amongst the principles of deliberation, political equality, and mass participation. Deliberation and political equality would be worthless without participation. Gary Orren mentions that Alexis de Tocqueville chronicles a pluralist American society distinguished by widespread participation and a tendency to form groups. The public, specifically local residents, ought to be able to participate, and their opinions should carry equal weight. However, it is difficult for local citizens engage in high quality public deliberation in today’s pervasively nondeliberative political atmosphere. Michael Walzer argues that currently there is minimal deliberation in political education, organization, mobilization, demonstration, statement, debate, bargaining, lobbying, campaigning, and voting. In addition, ordinary people typically do not have the time, motivation or requisite skills necessary to deliberate complex issues. Muslims have the Constitutional right to practice religion and construct a place of worship “on private property in lower Manhattan in accordance with local laws and ordinances. (Obama)” The First Amendment of the Constitution protects the free exercise of religion, and Thomas Jefferson contends “all men should be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion.” I agree with Jefferson that the constitutional right to freedom of religion is the most sacred and inalienable of all human rights. According to Mayor Bloomberg, “Muslims have a constitutional right to build a mosque in Lower Manhattan (and) tolerance will always defeat tyranny and terrorism.”