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Yesterday we told you about the launch this Sunday of the $8 million “9-11 Christian Center at Ground Zero,” created by a pastor who assails Muslims as pedophiles and gay people as perverts and who has a history of trying to profit from political controversies. The pastor, internet evangelist Bill Keller, is starting services this Sunday at a site just two blocks away from the former World Trade Center site.
So we reached out to several critics of the Park51 Muslim community center, many of whom have made the putative sanctity of the neighborhood around ground zero central to their argument against the mosque. Why should this anti-Muslim, anti-gay, and anti-Mormon pastor be allowed to deliver bigoted sermons — and potentially profit off of the memory of Sept. 11 — so close to the site?
So far most of the people and groups — including the Anti-Defamation League and anti-mosque New York gubernatorial candidates Carl Paladino and Rick Lazio — have simply not responded to our inquiries.
A spokesman for Newt Gingrich responded that the former speaker would not comment. Now, that position is actually consistent with Gingrich’s argument against the mosque. He never focused on the sacredness of the neighborhood around ground zero, arguing instead that Park51 was somehow a monument to Islamist victory over the West.
But plenty of other politicians and pundits have claimed that this really is a question of sanctity. Here’s Charles Krauthammer the other day in a column on “Sacrilege at Ground Zero”:
A place is made sacred by a widespread belief that it was visited by the miraculous or the transcendent (Lourdes, the Temple Mount), by the presence there once of great nobility and sacrifice (Gettysburg), or by the blood of martyrs and the indescribable suffering of the innocent (Auschwitz).
When we speak of Ground Zero as hallowed ground, what we mean is that it belongs to those who suffered and died there — and that such ownership obliges us, the living, to preserve the dignity and memory of the place, never allowing it to be forgotten, trivialized or misappropriated.
Former military spokesman Dan Senor also argued in the Wall Street Journal that Park51 is offensive because ground zero is “sacred ground.” So where are Senor and Krauthammer on the 9/11 Christian Center? We’ve put in inquiries with both and will let you know if we hear back.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg has at least been consistent. Asked about the church project, spokesman Stu Loeser told Salon:
“Either you believe everybody has the right to worship who they want and where they want, or you don’t – Mayor Bloomberg does. And he feels strongly that government should not be vetting religions or religious leaders.”
Justin Elliott is a reporter for ProPublica. You can follow him on Twitter @ElliottJustinMore Justin Elliott.