Someone suggested that I name an award after Bryan Fischer, given to those who engage in hypocritical statements about their own defense of principle while consistently violating that principle in practice or who suffer from massive psychological projection in accusing their enemies of doing the very thing they do themselves. Finding candidates for this award should be trivially easy. The first nominee is Colby May, director of the American Center for Law and Justice.
May was asked to testify before the House Judiciary Committee on the state of religious freedom in the United States. And he opened with this incredible statement:
The ACLJ defends religious liberties throughout the world. Nowhere is our effort more profound, however, than here at home. This nation’s founders cherished religious liberty. In fact, the Founding Fathers built this nation with the assurance that an American would be free to practice the religion of his or her choice without the fear of government interference. But although the liberty to practice one’s religion is greater in this country than in any country in the world, conflicts between religious liberty and other interests do exist. In this conflict, many of our fundamental religious liberties are sustained through the efforts of Congress and state legislatures. Others must be defended daily in the courts across our nation.
To double down on the irony, May specifically mentioned the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, a law that exempts religious organizations from local zoning laws. The ACLJ loves this law and considers it an important way of defending religious freedom:
In several areas, Congress and the courts have successfully protected the religious liberties of individuals and organizations. Legislation such as the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, has solidified the legal protection of religious liberty. As a result of RLUIPA, religious believers may no longer be targeted for disparate treatment with regard to land use because of their religion or religious denomination.
This is the same organization that went to court to prevent the Park 51 mosque from being opened in Manhattan. The ACLJ believes that Christian groups that violate zoning ordinances should be given an exemption from those laws that apply to all non-religious land owners. But when Muslims want to use their land to open an Islamic center that fully complies with all local zoning laws, they should not be allowed to use the property for that purpose.
The ACLJ has, in fact, sometimes defended religious freedom and done a very good job of it, like the Lamb’s Chapel case that originally put them on the map. But they only seem to care about the religious freedom of Christians. So when Colby May says that “an American” should be free to practice their religion, he’s defining “American” as “Christian American.”
Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State also testified at the hearing and he pointed out this contradiction:
In New York City, the proposed Park 51 Muslim community center prompted national backlash. The project had satisfied all zoning requirements and was legally authorized to move forward with construction. Nonetheless, groups that usually argue that zoning and historic landmark laws may not be used to stop the building of religious structures actually filed suit under those very laws to stop the construction of the community center. Indeed, the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) argued that the city should have granted the property landmark status, which would have prevented the construction of the community center. Of course, attorneys on the case also admitted that they would not be challenging the building project if a church were to be built in that spot instead.
The footnote for that last statement is for an article in the Daily Caller that also quoted my friend Tim Sandefur.
The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) argued in a brief filed this week that city officials politicized the process to review buildings of historic interest and utilized an “arbitrary and capricious abuse of discretion” when choosing whether to deem the building that would house the Muslim community center as a historic site.
“The Landmark Commission would not have rendered this decision but for the fact that it’s a mosque,” ACLJ attorney Brett Joshpe told The Daily Caller. “Because there are politically correct decisions at play, the property owners in this case are actually getting special treatment. The administrative agency is not applying the law faithfully, regardless of the faith of the people involved.”
The ACLJ is suing on behalf of New York firefighter Tim Brown, who claims the city did not follow the proper steps toward determining whether the space should be preserved, since it was hit with debris from the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.
After saying the building was “arguably one of the most significant properties in New York,” Joshpe said he would not be pursuing the case if a Christian church were being built on the same site.
“Would I be personally involved in this matter if this were a church? No,” he said. “And the reason why is because if it were a church it wouldn’t be offending and hurting the 9/11 victims’ families.”
Critics of the ACLJ suit said the group was taking advantage of the landmark designation process to infringe on the rights of religious minorities.
“I think it’s outrageous,” said Timothy Sandefur, principle attorney at the Pacific Legal Foundation. “Private property rights protect the right of a Muslim group to build a community center if they want to. Abusing the Landmark Preservation Law in this way to violate the private property rights of the people who have legitimately purchased this property is in clear violation of the Constitution.”
The claim that the preservation commission only allowed the project to go forward because it was a mosque is an incredible case of psychological projection, especially in light of the admission that the ACLJ would not be trying to stop it if it was a Christian church. The special pleading here is being done by the ACLJ, not the city of New York. It’s the ACLJ who wants to deny the mosque the same legal protection it would demand for a church. Hypocrisy seems far too mild a word in this circumstance.