Perhaps New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg deserves credit, then, for saying straight out, and sticking to his position, that the mosque “is as important a test” of “the separation of church and state as we may see in our lifetime.” Indeed, he added, “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.”
And yet, there’s something in that Bloombergian line that puts one’s back up. Something condescending, superior, and hectoring. Something of the school marm and, more to the point, something of the 1950s high-liberal technocrat who just doesn’t like the messiness of human interaction. And if we could reach down to the root of the mayor’s error, we would have some understanding of how religion actually works in a constitutional democracy.
Of course, the first thing that has to be said about the building of an enormous Muslim center so close to the destroyed towers is that it’s wildly offensive. And the second thing to be said is that it’s wildly constitutional.