WHEN IT comes to the proposed Park51 Islamic cultural center in Lower Manhattan, many pundits and politicians have displayed a severe, opportunistic lack of understanding of America’s tradition of respecting religious freedom.
It’s refreshing to see that Utah Republican Senator Orrin Hatch did not cede to this temptation.
In an interview with a Salt Lake City news station on Monday, Hatch forcefully defended Park51, rightly pointed out that it “shouldn’t matter’’ whether or not most Americans agree with its placement, and declared that “what’s made this country great is we have religious freedom.’’
As a member of the Mormon faith, Hatch understands the harmful ways in which stereotypes and innuendo can target religions, and he is stepping forward in a way that fellow Mormons like shout-show host Glenn Beck, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and, to a lesser extent, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney have not.
Still, the vast majority of Park51’s loudest critics would claim to be at least semi-observant Christians or Jews, and should therefore be familiar with the history of discrimination against those faiths. It’s curious, then, that they’re unable to do what Hatch did and grasp that the Park51 controversy is about nothing more and nothing less than religious freedom.