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Editorial

Temecula's mosque moment

The City Council approved the construction of a mosque in a move that, as one councilman said, was standing up for the U.S. Constitution.

January 28, 2011

The debate over construction of a mosque in Temecula, like a similar battle over plans to build a Muslim religious center near ground zero in Manhattan, was not a showcase for the American values of religious tolerance and freedom. What should have been a straightforward land-use decision for the Temecula City Council featured protests in which activists brought their dogs along as a way of mocking Muslims who consider the animals' saliva unclean, and hysterical residents who apparently feared that an Islamic house of worship in their community would be a haven for suicide bombers. But this week, reason prevailed.

After an eight-hour hearing that didn't wrap up until 3:30 a.m. Wednesday, the council approved the mosque by unanimous vote. It did so after City Atty. Peter Thorson warned council members that they had to base their decision on such mundane municipal concerns as the project's environmental impact or compliance with zoning rules, not on whether they approve of Islam. To do otherwise, Thorson pointed out, would be to violate the 1st Amendment's guarantees of freedom of religion.

It is remarkable how hard it seems to be for many Americans to grasp that concept. In fact, some of the same conservative activists who protest mosque construction also express a fundamentalist devotion to the tenets of the U.S. Constitution. What they need to realize is that it is illegal in this country for the government to interfere with religious practices simply because a majority considers that religion dangerous or distasteful. The Temecula City Council's decision — and its basis for making it — should be a guide for any other community wrestling with public opposition to new mosques. If opponents can show that these projects will snarl traffic or violate height restrictions, they have legitimate bases of complaint, but they might as well leave their dogs and xenophobic slogans at home.

It isn't fair to blame an entire political ideology or religion for the violent actions of extremists. "Tea party" activists and right-wing commentators rightly pointed this out after they were accused of inciting the recent violence in Tucson that left six people dead and a congresswoman fighting for her life. Ironically, though, the same activists and commentators tend to see nothing wrong with blaming all Muslims for the terrorist acts of a few.

Confronted with such intolerance, in the form of a critic who questioned how he would explain his vote to his children and grandchildren, Temecula Councilman Jeff Comerchero responded, "What I'll tell [them] was that I was proud to sit up here and uphold the Constitution." Bravo.

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