Read and update on my blog.

Why is there such an uproar over the so-called ground-zero mosque? I admit, when the issue was first brought to my attention about six weeks ago, I dismissed it. I thought no one would take seriously the claims made about the building because they were so patently untrue. As others have pointed out, it isn’t a mosque, and it isn’t at ground zero. Instead, according to a CNN poll, nearly 70% of Americans oppose its building, which strongest opposition coming from Republicans.

My initial reaction was disbelief: New York can’t possibly be allowing a mosque to be built on the site of the World Trade Centers. My disbelief turned out to be justified. The proposed Islamic community center, dubbed Cordoba House, would be located two-and-a-half blocks from the site of the World Trade Center Memorial. Due to intervening buildings, the site of the Memorial is not visible from the site of the proposed community center. Were it not for the 24-hour news cycle, visitors to the Memorial might never know that an Islamic community center was nearby.

Again I wonder, why such an uproar? Have we really reached the point where unsupported, bald assertion gets as much respect as the truth? Is it really only necessary to proclaim a lie loudly and repeatedly to have it universally believed? Even if, as has been claimed, Muslims have deliberately located the Cordoba House close to the WTC Memorial in order to demonstrate their global dominance, is the United States really so weak that we can’t allow Muslims to make ridiculous claims like everyone else? What, exactly, are we so afraid of?

Americans have a tradition of free speech because it was once believed that in a free society, truth would emerge from allowing free and open debate. We have a free press because it was once believed that a free press would expose self-serving lies and help citizens get at the truth. Now, however, it seems that truth has to take a backseat to whoever has the biggest megaphone, and citizens distrust the press almost as much as they do the government. The free market of ideas has given way to shouting matches between parties interested only in dominating. Every issue moves away from reasoned, dispassionate debate toward gang warfare, Republicans and Democrats alike acting like rival gangs out to secure their turf with all the same bravado, name calling, and aggression. No wonder voters have become cynical.

For the record, I’m not in favor of the Islamic community center. But I also don’t oppose it. The Muslims have a right as American citizens to build where zoning laws permit and to practice their religion in accordance with their conscience. As Christians, our only response must be persuasion through proclaiming and affirming the gospel of Jesus Christ. Any attempts to restrict the practice of Islam will restrict Christianity as well. All those who prize the freedoms guaranteed in the Bill of Rights need to take a long, hard look at anyone wanting to deny those rights to other American citizens.