Developers should secure own funding

Park 51 developers, formerly known as Cordoba House, the group behind what is popularly known as the proposed “ground zero mosque” two blocks away from the site of the 9/11 attacks, has catapulted its proposed project back into the news spotlight.

By applying for a $5 million grant from the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, which is handling federal funds allocated to rebuilding the area around the attack site, it has changed the character of the project.

Many of the objections to the project that arose when the idea of building a mosque and community center so close to the site of the attacks were ill-considered and some crept all too close to the edge of religious bigotry. The notion that building a Muslim mosque so close to the attack site is somehow an “affront” to those killed and should be scuttled made little sense from a freedom perspective.

Those people were not killed by the Muslim religion but by a few fanatics with a twisted conception of Islam rejected by the vast majority of Muslims. In a country with a tradition of respect for private property and freedom of enterprise and religion, the matter should have been simple. If those who wanted to build the structure owned the property and had the money to proceed, they had every right to do so, given that certain concessions might have been justifiable if the project affected their direct neighbors. We understand the high emotions around the proposal, but in the final analysis, we would defend it.

The request for federal funds raises entirely different issues, however. Although both the Bush and Obama administrations have confused the issue by supporting “faith-based” initiatives ostensibly qualified for federal funds, we believe providing taxpayer money to any religious institution raises First Amendment questions.

Such funds generally are promised to be applied to social welfare functions like drug or teenage pregnancy prevention (domestic violence prevention, immigration counseling and Arabic language instruction in the case of the proposed mosque); but, money is fungible. If a religious institution is already doing effective social welfare work (which you would think would be a necessity for consideration), taxpayer money for those programs means more money available for promotion of the religion. Providing money extracted by force to religious organizations of any kind should at the very least be approached with extreme caution, if only to safeguard the integrity of the religion in question.

Using federal funds, seized from taxpayers across the country for local development projects is fairly widely accepted, but in our view is quite problematic. Better accountability is usually achieved when money is provided locally.

Whether the request for federal funds was intended as a provocative move or not, it is highly objectionable. Those who want to build a mosque near the Ground Zero memorial should rely on their own voluntary resources for the project. If they can raise enough money from people genuinely committed to Park 51, fine and dandy. If they can’t, they should refrain from looting taxpayers in New Mexico, Texas and elsewhere.