Dear Prudence: The Government Needs to Butt Out of the Islamic Cultural Center's Finances

Emily Yoffe, aka Slate advice columnist Dear Prudence, has evidently been driven to distraction by the prospect of an Islamic cultural center/mosque two blocks from the former World Trade Center.

Yoffe is concerned about Mayor Bloomberg's curt dismissal of Republican Rick Lazio's demand that the Attorney General of New York investigate the finances of Cordoba House.

"In his remarks [Mayor Bloomberg] seems to carve out a (tax-exempt!) space for people to engage in any kind of speech whatsoever as long as it’s under the guise of religion: “This is about giving those people the right to say what they want to say. … Even if I disagree with it, they have a right to call for anything they want.” Really?

This must mean Bloomberg has quite a beef with Barack Obama, who has authorized the assassination of Islamic cleric Anwar Al-Awlaki for his incitement to murder Americans: Awlaki’s sermons were the inspiration for, among others, the Ft. Hood shooter, the attempted Christmas airplane bomber, and the would-be Times Square bomber (whose motives Bloomberg first opined were probably opposition to health care reform)." [Slate/XX]

Is Yoffe really oblivious to difference between pursuing criminals based on evidence vs. targeting apparently upstanding organizations for state scrutiny based on their religious affiliation? For the record, I oppose Obama's targeted assassination program, but that's neither here nor there. Yoffe was just looking for an excuse to mention the Fort Hood shooter in the same breath as Cordoba House.

Bloomberg didn't mean that Cordoba House, or any other organization, has carte blanche to break the law. He meant that the Attorney General shouldn't be singling out Cordoba House with zero evidence because it the group has the temerity to put an Islamic cultural center where Rick Lazio and his buddies don't want one.

This week, Lazio lost the battle with the landmarks preservation commission and he's sulking. Now, Lazio wants Attorney General Cuomo to give him the petty revenge at public expense. It's disgusting. Good for Cuomo for obliquely telling Lazio to take a hike by reiterating that allowing the project to proceed is a matter of religious freedom.

Journalists, and even advice columnists, are free to play detective all they want. If Yoffe thinks the mere fact of the Cordoba House's Muslim faith makes it suspicious, she's welcome to investigate further. I suspect the results will be about as juicy as investigating her local YMCA or Jewish community center, but, hey, it's a free country. Remember?

However, the government should never use its investigative powers to settle scores by harassing groups with unpopular ideologies.

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