Gerlach: Building Mosque “Just Like” Protesting at Military Funerals


Republican Congressman Equates Building the Park 51 Mosque with Fred Phelps’ Hate Group Picketing Funerals of American Servicemen and Descrating the American Flag

At last night’s debate, Main Line Reform Temple’s Rabbi David Straus asked Congressional Candidates Jim Gerlach (R) and Manan Trivedi (D) how they stood on the question of the whether the Park 51 Community Center and Mosque should be built in New York City on the site of a former Burlington Coat Factory story on a side street two and a half blocks from the site of the World Trade Center.

While Manan Trivedi thought this was an issue left for New Yorkers to decide, he said

I fought in Iraq to defend the Constitution, and one of the rights in the Constitution is for religious freedom, and that was what they were doing up in New York when they proposed to build that mosque. These are some of the rights that were in the Constitution, and that’s a principle I stand behind.”

As a Marine, Trivedi put himself in danger to protect those freedoms for all of us whether Jew, Christian, Hindi or Muslim.

On the other hand, Republican Congressman Jim Gerlach said that those who build such a mosque are just like Westboro Baptist Church founder Fred Phelps: Gerlach observes that one has the right to build a mosque, or show up at a military funeral desecrating the American flag and carrying signs such as “God hates fags”, “Thank God for dead soldiers”, “God hates Israel”, and “Jews killed Jesus”. However, Gerlach argues “Just because you can do it doesn’t mean you should.”

The Park 51 project calls for a “green certified building” to serve as a “center for multifaith dialog and engagement”. The Cordoba initiative leader and moderate Imam, Feisal Abdul-Rauf, has justly been recognized as a courageous and eloquent leader in improving relations between Islam and other faiths. In fact, he was Bush’s partner for Middle East peace and helped the FBI with its counter-terrorism efforts.

On the other hand, Fred Phelps and his extended family are engaging in hate speech. It is not at all clear whether anti-Gay, anti-Semitic and anti-American rhetoric spat in the face of the mourners of our fallen heros is guaranteed under the Constitution as “free speech”. In fact, the Supreme Court will soon be ruling on this case.

For those unfamiliar with Snyder v. Phelps, the backstory is as follows: Snyder was burying his son, Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, who was killed in a Humvee accident while stationed in Iraq. One thousand feet away stood members of the “church,” which protests just about everywhere, spreading the message of God’s hate for Matthew and his fellow soldiers as well as the entire world. They were carrying signs such as “Thank God for IEDs,” “Fags die, God laughs,” et cetera; Al Snyder said they also carried the sign “Matt in Hell.” In addition, they posted a poem on their website claiming that Snyder and his wife “raised [Matthew] for the devil,” taught him “to commit adultery” and that “God killed Matthew so that His servants would have an opportunity to preach His words. …”

Al Snyder, who became violently ill after reading this and watching the coverage of the protest later, filed a lawsuit claiming defamation, invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Snyder claims that this is not so much a free speech issue as a harassment issue. This is about deliberately engaging in psychological torture and, as Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said, “exploiting a private family’s grief.”

Drawing any sort of equivalency between these two groups shows a lack of a clear moral compass on Gerlach’s part. Treating a moderate Imam as if he was one of the 9/11 terrorists instead of a key ally in our efforts to isolate the extremists in the Muslim community is unfair, racist, immoral and jeapordizes the security of our nation
Rabbi Straus continued with a question about the Tea Party. Trivedi said the group espoused “dangerous ideas for our country”, while Gerlach was appreciative of the efforts of the local Tea Party groups and considered them preferable to MoveOn.org which he denounced as a extreme left-wing organization.

Unlike the Chester County debate, the Gerlach campaign agreed to let the debate be televised. It was carried live by PCN.