Jonathan Chait

When Shuls Were Banned In America

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Synangogues were banned in New Amsterdam, and even after the signing of the Constitution, First Amendment protections didn't stop cities from preventing the construction of Jewish housesof worship, writes Jonathan Sarna in The Forward:

In Connecticut, for example, statutes limited the right of religious incorporation to Christians long after the Bill of Rights mandated religious liberty for all on the federal level. It took a special act of the state legislature, in 1843, to ensure that “Jews who may desire to unite and form religious societies shall have the same rights, powers and privileges as are given to Christians of every denomination.” Thanks to this act, Congregation Mishkan Israel opened in New Haven that year; it was only the second synagogue in all of New England.

The New Haven Register viewed the synagogue as a public defeat for Christendom. “The Jews…,” the paper thundered, “have outflanked us here, and effected a footing in the very centre of our own fortress. Strange as it may sound, it is nevertheless true that a Jewish synagogue has been established in this city and their place of worship (in Grand Street, over the store of Heller and Mandelbaum) was dedicated on Friday afternoon. Yale College divinity deserves a Court-martial for bad generalship.”

Meanwhile, Charles Krauthammer suggests that building a Muslim cultural center and mosque two blocks from Ground Zero poses a potential risk:

Who is to say that the mosque won't one day hire an Anwar al-Aulaqi -- spiritual mentor to the Fort Hood shooter and the Christmas Day bomber, and onetime imam at the Virginia mosque attended by two of the 9/11 terrorists?

Krauthammer, at least,is open to the construction of mosques elsewhere, though he does not define the radius of the mosque exclusion zone. Still, we're left with a stark contrast in strategic approaches to fighting islamic radicalism. One approach is to attempt to divide extremist Islam from the rest of Islam, demonstrating American openness to the latter in order to isolate the former. The other approach -- Krauthammer's approach -- is to treat all Muslims as potential terrorists. After all, who is to say that any Muslim organization won't hire a radical?You certainly can't prove a negative, especially in advance.

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