Mayor Bloomberg spoke on Governors Island yesterday, with the Statue of Liberty in the background, eloquently defending the idea of building an Islamic center near the World Trade Center site. The plan has been attacked by demagogues seeking to exploit the events of September 11th for political gain. Bloomberg said in part:
Should government attempt to deny private citizens the right to build a house of worship on private property based on their particular religion? That may happen in other countries, but we should never allow it to happen here. This nation was founded on the principle that the government must never choose between religions or favor one over another. The World Trade Center site will forever hold a special place in our city, in our hearts. But we would be untrue to the best part of ourselves and who we are as New Yorkers and Americans if we said no to a mosque in lower Manhattan. Let us not forget that Muslims were among those murdered on 9/11, and that our Muslim neighbors grieved with us as New Yorkers and as Americans.... On September 11, 2001, thousands of first responders heroically rushed to the scene and saved tens of thousands of lives. More than 400 of those first responders did not make it out alive. In rushing into those burning buildings, not one of them asked ‘What God do you pray to?’ ‘What beliefs do you hold?’
The entire speech is worth reading: Bloomberg articulates an American ideal that is in danger of being lost. He also articulates something essential about the spirit of New York, harking back to the city's early days as a Dutch colony.