A reader writes:
It might be worth pointing out to the knuckleheads who are protesting the building of a mosque near Ground Zero that there's been a Japanese Shinto Shrine very close to Pearl Harbor for a very long time. I'd also be willing to bet that there are German Lutheran churches in NYC close to where German submarines were sinking US merchant ships in WWII. Somehow the Greatest Generation managed to deal with these things. Why can't we?
Lost in all of the pseudo-patriotic posturing and puffing by Gingrich, Palin et al., is the fact that it is against Federal Law for the City or State of New York to attempt to prevent the use of the buildings in question for religious (including Islamic) purposes absent a compelling government interest in preventing that use. The Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act ("RLUIPA"), (U.S.C. § 2000cc-1 et seq.), section 2(a)(1) states that:
"No government shall impose or implement a land use regulation in a manner that imposes a substantial burden on the religious exercise of a person, including a religious assembly or institution, unless the government demonstrates that imposition of the burden on that person, assembly, or institution--
(A) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and
(B) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest."
In other words, if the City of New York tried to oppose the use of the building in question as a mosque or other place of religious assembly, it would have to demonstrate a compelling interest in why it should be able to do so. And even it it can show a compelling interest, it must also show that preventing the use is the least restrictive way of furthering that interest. In terms of constitutional law, that is the highest possible hurdle to placing a restriction on the practice of religious and is practically impossible to do.
It is ironic that RLUIPA was pushed through largely by Christian groups to prevent local governments from placing zoning restrictions on churches. Of course, they only meant it to apply to Christian churches, not those others.