Catholics, Religious Freedom, and Cordoba House.

Talking about Cordoba House, Ross Douthat writes about the assimilation of Catholics in the United States as a model for Islam:

Nativist concerns about Catholicism’s illiberal tendencies inspired American Catholics to prod their church toward a recognition of the virtues of democracy, making it possible for generations of immigrants to feel unambiguously Catholic and American.

Jamelle has already explained the historical inaccuracies behind the idea of nativists inspiring immigrants to assimilate. But there is something to this idea: Prodded not so much by nativists as the experience of World War II and the holocaust, American Jesuit John Courtney Murray argued for religious liberty, inspired by American values but grounded in Catholic scripture and doctrine. His ideas were at first suppressed by the Church but ultimately adopted by the Second Vatican Council in 1965, shortly before his death. Prior to that, the default position of the Catholic Church was seeking to become the state-sponsored religion.

Murray's model can be seen in the work of Muslim moderates like Feisal Abdul Rauf, the Imam behind Cordoba House who was sent abroad by the Bush administration to tout religious freedom in America; Tariq Ramadan, who preaches a more tolerant version of Islam but is still targeted by critics as some kind of undercover radical; or, less controversially, Shi'a theologian Abdolkarim Soroush, whose arguments for the separation of church and state are very much in the Murray mode.

And yet you see opponents of Cordoba House like Douthat, who ultimately seems to blame Rauf for the controversy, and Debra Burlingame, a 9/11 widow turned conservative political operative, explaining that "freedom of religion" doesn't apply here because that's a "Western concept, completely." This is wrong broadly -- religious freedom certainly exists in Eastern tradition -- and specifically: Religious freedom wasn't a Western concept for Catholics until 45 years ago, a relatively short historical time.

In rejecting Cordoba House -- and saying that religious freedom doesn't apply to Muslims -- opponents of the Mosque are doing the exact opposite of encouraging assimilation. They're telling Muslims that even if you embrace religious liberty, we're not going to welcome you to our shores. What liberals worry about in the case -- aside from their normative support of religious liberty -- is the terrible message opposing the Mosque sends to Muslims around the globe about our country's values.

-- Tim Fernholz

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