The statement issued by the Center for Inquiry on Friday, August 27 concerning the Ground Zero controversy was interpreted by some as calling for a prohibition on the placement of mosques or other houses of worship near Ground Zero or otherwise speaking out against freedom of religion. That was not the intent of the statement and we regret any misunderstanding. A revised statement that clarifies the Center for Inquiry’s position is set forth below.
The Center for Inquiry’s Statement on the Ground Zero Controversy
CFI fully supports the free exercise of religion; protecting the rights of believers and nonbelievers is central to CFI’s mission. Accordingly, CFI endorses President Obama’s recent statement reminding the country that Muslim Americans enjoy the same rights as other Americans and should not be treated as second-class citizens. There should be no legal impediment to the placement of an Islamic community center near Ground Zero, just as there should be no legal impediment to the placement of a church, temple, or synagogue near Ground Zero.
Further, CFI laments the effort by some to turn the proposed Islamic center into a political issue. Government officials and candidates for office should not intervene in disputes over the alleged offensiveness of a place of worship. Such conduct violates the spirit, if not the letter, of the Establishment Clause. Government officials should not be deciding who is a “moderate” Muslim any more than they should be deciding who is a “moderate” Christian or Jew.
A number of private individuals have protested the proposed Islamic center. The tone and substance of these protests covers a wide range. Some protesting the Islamic center have raised legitimate questions, but to the extent the objections to the Islamic center mistakenly equate all Muslims with Muslim extremists, CFI condemns them.
CFI maintains that an Islamic center, including a mosque, near Ground Zero, in and of itself, is no different than a church, temple, or synagogue. It is undeniable that the 9/11 terrorists were inspired by their understanding of Islam, and that currently there are far more Islamic terrorists in the world than terrorists of other faiths, but those facts are not relevant to the location of the Islamic center, absent evidence that terrorists are involved in this endeavor, and there is no such evidence.
CFI’s unequivocal support for the legal right of Muslims to place a community center near Ground Zero does not imply that CFI views the new center as an event to be celebrated. To the contrary, CFI is committed to the position that reason and science, not faith, are needed to address and resolve humanity’s problems. All religions share a fundamental flaw: they reflect a mistaken understanding of reality. On balance, CFI does not consider houses of worship to be beneficial to humanity, whether they are built at Ground Zero or elsewhere.
This statement supersedes any prior statement issued by CFI regarding the Ground Zero controversy.
Overall, this is a fair and balanced statement regarding the position of CFI, and for this I applaud them. It must be noted, however, that the entire thrust of their mistaken argument was reduced to a controversial but valid statement in the last sentence, and the rest of this press release is filled with fairly obvious ideas to anyone who values freedom of religion. It becomes clear, then, if any status quo-changing argument they could make is fallacious, and they are left to reiterate banal tropes about religion, it would probably have been to CFI's benefit not to get involved at all. They're an atheist/secularist organization, it's not as if anyone was waiting with bated breath to see where they'd fall. This brouhaha has simply discredited them and made their goals that much harder to achieve. I wish them better judgment in the future.
On the bright side, it's totally fantastic that they listened to us, and that the members of CFI cared enough to make a fuss. This is very much a victory, and I'm proud to have been a part of it.
I'm looking forward to a better world.