In looking at the issue of Cordoba Center at 51 Park Place in New York, people astutely note that freedom of religion is clashing with freedom of speech. While the group seeking to build the center is assured its religious freedom to do so, critics are equally assured their freedom to criticize their decision to do so. That’s exactly right.
There’s no foul, no oppression, no violation of any freedom when citizens criticize an act, rightly or wrongly. Freedom of Speech practically requires that someone else will be offended. After all, if everyone believed the same things, then such a freedom would not be needed. Offenses to the concept of free speech come only when government acts or is enlisted to act against speech and those who make it.
Freedom of Religion is similar. The right itself and the laws to protect it would not be needed if everyone prayed in the same way to the same god or gods. Again, the right is offended only when government acts or is enlisted to act against or prejudicially in favor of a religion.
No government has acted in any way to violate the rights of the sponsors of Cordoba Center. Instead, government has acted in a way to show no preference of a religion nor animus toward a religion. Nor has government sought to suppress speech against Cordoba Center. There has been no censorship, there has been no favoritism. President Obama correctly and legally supported the rights of the center’s sponsors to build on land for which they held the property rights to build.
President Obama also criticized—obliquely—their decision to build an Islamic center at that particular location. That’s fine. It’s not censorship, it’s not offensive to their religious beliefs. No one is shielded against criticism, only against governmental coercion.
Many Americans believe it was a bad decision to seek to build the Cordoba Center in that particular location, close to 70% of Americans, in fact. Most of the objections seem to me to be wrong-headed, but not malicious. Many seem to believe they have some sort of ownership right to the idea of tragedy of 9/11. Some families of those killed in the attacks on the Twin Towers claim and are granted some sort of moral ownership of the site of their loved ones’ deaths. Some of them are offended by the thought of building an Islamic center near that site. They find it ‘insensitive’ at best. This argument is undercut by the support by some other 9/11 families to have the center built. With both groups holding equal claim to the moral high ground from which to speak, I fail to find any persuasive argument in either direction. Neither side has the higher moral ground.
One side, however, does have a stronger claim to legitimacy, legitimacy based on the logical strength of their argument. The other side’s argument rests on logical fallacy as well as a great deal of incoherent feelings, not based on fact but instead on innuendo and often conspiratorial thinking.
As I said earlier, criticizing the group wanting to build the Cordoba Center at that site is constitutionally protected. What is not protected, what offends the Constitution, is the effort of find some way to force government to stop the center’s construction.
The logical flaws in the arguments against the center are several: Ad Hominem, Appeal to Belief, Appeal to Emotion, Appeal to Fear, Appeal to Spite, Compostion, the Genetic Fallacy, Poisoning the Well, Personal Attack, the Slippery Slope, and perhaps most pernicious, the Two Wrongs Make a Right argument. Most of the arguments against the center do not confine themselves to just one logical error, they combine many of them. I’ve get to come across a situation where compounded errors result in a correct response.
As I’ve said, I don’t think most people making fallacious arguments are doing it out of spite or in bad faith. I believe they are just not thinking clearly and are letting their emotions rule. There’s certainly a role for emotions in life, but the formulation of public policy is not one of them.