Cordoba House ‘compromise’ has some serious flaws

CORDOBA HOUSE ‘COMPROMISE’ HAS SOME SERIOUS FLAWS…. New York Gov. David Paterson (D), hoping to resolve the political dispute over the proposed Muslim community center in lower Manhattan, is floating a possible compromise.

Paterson agreed that there is “no reason” why the Cordoba House shouldn’t be built at the site known as Park51. But in light of political response from conservatives, the governor is open to state intervention to help explore alternatives. “Frankly, if the sponsors were looking for property anywhere at a distance that would be such that it would accommodate a better feeling among the people who are frustrated,” Paterson said, “I would look into trying to provide them with the state property they would need.”

A whole host of reasons come to mind as to why this is a bad idea. Greg Sargent highlights some of the more glaring problems.

First, it puts Mayor Bloomberg in a weird spot. The mayor, you may recall, eloquently defended the religious freedom of the developers and stood up for their right to build on a site of their choosing in the face of withering national criticism. Now the governor’s position is that, yes, there’s something to that religious freedom thing, but let’s give away some state land to make the whole mess go away? What is Bloomberg supposed to say in response? I’m told City Hall won’t be commenting on the governor’s idea.

Second, let’s say for the sake of argument that the center’s developers would support this scheme. Who gets to decide how far away from Ground Zero is an appropriate distance, and why should they be accorded that power? Should the governor appoint Sarah Palin or Abraham Foxman to a newly-created post of Mosque Exclusion Zone Czar?

Third, this sets an awful precedent. Other religious groups in New York will be asking why they aren’t being given state land to build their own cultural centers. Will the state cheerfully throw free land at the next group whose plans spark controversy?

I’d add just one that Greg missed: it might very well be unconstitutional.

Constitutional law experts can speak to this with far more authority than I can, but as I recall from my years at Americans United for Separation of Church and State, houses of worship and centers built by faith groups are private property — as they should be.

As part of a religiously-neutral government, courts don’t necessarily look kindly at states handing over public land for the construction of private religious facilities. To be sure, New York could sell the developers of the Cordoba House state land for their community center, but it couldn’t show them any favoritism against other groups that might want to purchase the same property, and it certainly couldn’t “provide them with the state property they would need.”

Besides, part of the point of the particular Park51 site is for Feisal Abdul Rauf and his partners to cater to a local community. If they wanted a property in some other part of New York, they wouldn’t be trying to purchase this spot.

Paterson’s compromise may be well intended, but it’s a step in the wrong direction.