Because of their growing number in the United States, Muslims have needed to build more mosques in order to be able to congregate and conduct their prayers and rituals. For some Americans, mosques are wrongly seen as places of fundamentalism and violence. They have thus opposed the building of mosques in various cities in the United States. the most famous controversy is probably the one that is known as the Park 51 controversy, that is the creation of an Islamic center near Ground Zero in New York. To learn more about this controversy and the opposition to places of Islamic worship in the US, see Tanenbaum’s factsheet on Opposition to Places of Worship in the US.
Political and legislative opposition to Muslims and to Places of Worship
Cultural bias against Muslims often manifests in political and legal opposition to peaceful Muslim activities. In March 2011, U.S. Representative Peter King (R-NY), incoming Chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, called the first of many planned legislative hearings about what he considered to be radicalization and the threat of terrorism within America’s Muslim communities. Representative King had previously stated that there are “too many mosques in the country” and that he believed most of them were run by extremists. The hearings, the most recent of which was held in June 2012, have drawn enormous criticism from civil rights groups. The American Civil Liberties Union responded to the hearings, calling them a “misinformed, counterproductive and discriminatory” move that would “target and isolate the entire Muslim American community.”
Click here to see the testimony of Representative Keith Ellison (D-MN), the first Muslim American in Congress, at the King hearings.
The Murfreesboro mosque
In 2010, a congregation of Muslims in Murfreesboro, TN sought and received a building permit to construct a new mosque and community center. The planned mosque would come to spark a nationwide debate about American Muslims and their religious freedom. After enduring harassment, threats, and an arson attempt at the building site, the Muslims of Murfreesboro, TN found themselves the subject of a lawsuit to halt construction of their mosque.
At the trial, plaintiff attorneys attempted to circumvent the First Amendment freedom of religion protections by claiming that Islam was not, in fact, a religion—a move that prompted no less than the U.S. Department of Justice to become involved. “A mosque is quite plainly a place of worship,” wrote the U.S. Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights in his brief. After a pair of successful Federal civil rights trials (one of which brought by the Justice Department itself), the mosque finally opened its doors in August 2012. To see CNN’s in-depth coverage of the controversy, click here.
A similar controversy erupted after plans for an Islamic community center on Park Avenue, New York City were announced. Dubbed the “Ground Zero mosque” by opponents due to its proximity to the World Trade Center site, the center was characterized as a “victory mosque” in triumph over the attacks of 9/11. Due to the plan’s timing, the issue became a talking platform for conservative politicians during the 2010 midterm elections. (Click here to see a 2010 campaign ad for Renee Ellmers decrying the mosque. Ellmers won her campaign and now serves as U.S. Representative for North Carolina’s 2nd District.)
In 2011, a New York judge ruled that an ex-firefighter and mosque opponent had no legal standing to challenge the center. However, as of late 2012, no construction had yet begun.