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 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.

Philadelphia Interfaith Walk Supports Park 51

As members of the Philadelphia Interfaith Walk for Peace and Reconciliation, we write to express our strongest support for the construction of Park51, previously known as Cordoba  House, a community center and mosque to be located near the site of the former World Trade Center. For seven years now, members of the Peace Walk-Christians, Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, and Buddhists, among others-have gathered monthly at the Al-Aqsa Islamic Society in North Philadelphia to learn and draw strength from each other as we work toward a more peaceful world. Our Muslim brothers and sisters at Al-Aqsa and elsewhere have been gracious hosts and models for the open-mindedness, peacefulness, and compassion at the heart of their faith. Those same values are evident in those who seek to found Park51. According to its own vision, it plans to be a “center for multifaith dialogue and engagement.” One of the leaders of the proposal, Imam Feisal Abdul-Rauf, has justly been recognized as a courageous and eloquent leader in improving relations between Islam and other faiths.

More (including list of co-signers) after the jump.
We, too, feel the lingering trauma of 9/11. We continue to mourn the victims, including the many Muslims killed and wounded. We unequivocally denounce the attackers’ perversion of a holy faith shared by a billion people, just as we denounce all violence that profanes the name of God. But it is precisely for these reasons that we support the construction of Cordoba House, along with Mayor Bloomberg, President Obama, many survivors of 9/11 and their families, and the majority of those who actually live in Manhattan.

The question is not simply whether the groups sponsoring Park51 have a right to build it. The Constitution makes it clear that they do, though we are dismayed that some would question it or even argue, as has one prominent commentator, that no more mosques should be built anywhere in the United States. The question is whether this center should be built in this place. Our answer: An unequivocal yes. This mosque and community center will build bridges among various faiths (just as we seek to do in the Peace Walk). In doing so, Park51 will concretely and symbolically reject the evil aims of those who perpetrated the 9/11 attacks and their allies. It will be a sign of our resilience. It will promote something even better than tolerance­-mutual understanding and a celebration of differences as well as commonalities. In other words, it will
embody our nation’s unofficial motto: E Pluribus Unum, “Out of many, one.” We can’t think of anything more American than that. We also can’t think of a better way to honor the image of
God in all of us.


(affiliations listed for identification purposes only)

Ronald Abrams, Mishkan Shalom
Margarita (Miriam) Abuawadeh, Al-aqsa Islamic Society
Anthony Brummans, St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church
Vic Compher, Tabernacle United Church
Edd Conboy, Broad Street Ministry
Patricia Coyne, Peace Walk
Katy Friggle-Norton, Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America
Rabbi Nancy Fuchs-Kreimer, Reconstructionist Rabbinical College
Ayala Guy, Peace Walk
Peter Handler, Mishkan Shalom
Adab Ibrahim, Al-Aqsa Islamic Society
Wilson Kratz, Chestnut Hill United Church
Lance Laver, Mishkan Shalom
Brenda Lazin, Mishkan Shalom
James McGovern, Catholic Peace Fellowship
Neomosha Nelson, Metropolitan Christian Council of Philadelphia
Steve Newman, Mishkan Shalom
Douglas Norton, Central Baptist Church
Ruthy Lachman Paul, Peace Walk
Peter Pedemonti, New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia
Jeanne Swartz, Peace Walk
Linda Toia, St. Peter’s Episcopal Church
Rev. Frank P. Toia, priest, Episcopal Church
Ayesha Weinberg, Bawa Muhaiyaddeen Fellowship
Justina Wiggins, Mirabilia Circle
Pecki Witonsky, Peace Walk
Pam Yaller, Upper Dublin Friends Meeting