According to an article in the Arizona Republic, Arizona lawmakers passed a law earlier this year "that prohibits cities and towns from using zoning codes and land-use rules to restrict where religious facilities such as churches, mosques or synagogues can locate." In other words, local governments in Arizona now have less control over where religious buildings can be placed. Given that part of the national debate raging over plans for an Islamic center to be built within blocks of the old World Trade Center site in New York City has focused on whether the government should have any sway on where religious buildings can be constructed on privately-owned land, do you think that any government — whether it's municipal, state or federal — should have the power to restrict the location of religious buildings?
Having property — a physical place to provide religious services — is essential to religious freedom. Congress passed legislation in 2000 protecting religious organizations, and pointing out how easily zoning laws can be subverted to discriminate against new, small or unfamiliar religious groups.
Yet the rights of businesses and residential neighbors must also be respected. In an Arizona case, a church's property was in an historic district being revitalized for theaters and dining. Businesses objected because no alcohol could be served near a church. The problem was solved by amending the liquor laws.
A Connecticut Buddhist Cambodian Temple was denied a building permit because some of its festivals would attract more than 500 people in an area that could not handle that intensity of use. I think many of these conflicts will depend upon the context and will have to be settled in court.
Rev. Dr. Deborah Barrett
Zen Center of Orange County
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."
So states the 1st Amendment to the Constitution. It's a challenge for communities to provide places for religious gatherings. The demands for meeting places are on the rise. The only restrictions that should be placed on religious buildings should be about traffic, safety, parking, and architecture.
Our Constitution is clear: All religions are welcome as long as they are peaceful and abide by the laws of the community. Any compromise of these ideals can weaken the fabric of our rule of law.
Dr. Jim Turrell
Center for Spiritual Living Newport-Mesa
Our government already has the power to restrict construction of houses of worship and exercises that power every day through means of various codes. There are church buildings all over America that have been held up for years by governmental red tape.
The issue surrounding the construction of an Islamic center within 2 blocks of the site of the Islamic terrorists' attacks on 9/11 goes much deeper. I am of the opinion that the center will be viewed by Muslims as a symbol of Islamic supremacy and control. I am appalled at the hypocrisy of President Obama in calling for the building of a mosque on the site.
I would like to hear him call for the construction of a Christian church in Mecca. Somehow I expect to be waiting a long time for that kind of consistency in this president. The government can and should restrict the building of a symbol honoring those who murdered 3,000 innocent Americans just a few years ago.
Pastor Dwight Tomlinson
Liberty Baptist Church