Tough public policy issue with mosques: Wahhabism
As someone who believes strongly in the US Bill of Rights and the First Amendment clause that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," I don't believe that governments should get in the way of churches opening or operating as churches. That being said there can be plenty of urban policy issues that then become complex:
- building regulation including historic preservation requirements
- parking accommodations when church congregations become disconnected from the neighborhood in which the church is located
- acquisition of adjoining properties by churches and warehousing/mothballing practices contributing to neglect/nuisance properties (Shiloh Baptist Church in DC)
- advocacy for voucher programs to fund attendance at church schools
- funding improvements and maintenance of buildings as congregation membership declines
- reuse of properties
- property tax exemptions
- religious symbols (creches etc.) placed in the public space
I do have a problem when religious organizations seek special treatment, claiming special treatment is in fact "normal treatment," such as through the federal Religious Land Use And Institutionalized Persons Act, which comes up a lot when it comes to land use and building regulation.
Many churches argue that because of the First Amendment, they should be exempt from all laws, or because of RLUIPA that somehow a building regulation is a stricture against practicing religion. (At the national level this comes up with laws concerning the provision of health care services including abortion, or with pharmacists who refuse to dispense legal drugs associated with abortion, etc.)
In DC this has come up with historic preservation laws and the eventual decision to demolish a landmarked church building ("The Third Church of Christ, Scientist challenge to the DC historic preservation laws" and "The slippery slope of economic hardship arguments to obviate historic preservation protections") as well as with a conservative sect that doesn't believe in graven images, in this case "stained glass windows," and attempted to remove the windows from an existing church building they purchased which is located in the Capitol Hill Historic District (Hepworth Church Decision, Mayor's Agent, DC)
Some Councilmembers--I don't agree--have suggested passing a law giving churches an exemption from the historic preservation laws.
With regard to providing "support" to churches, in the UK, because of how the Anglican religion was the official religion of state, there still exist today on some properties a legal responsibility to fund repairs to church buildings.
Obviously we don't have such requirements in the US. But there needs to be some mechanism to assist congregations that need help maintaining their properties, when such deterioration has a negative impact on the adjacent neighborhood.
-- Partners for Sacred Spaces is a "non-denominational nonprofit organization focused on caring for and making good use of older and historic religious properties"
And churches, focused on parking and other issues, can become vociferous opponents of neighborhood and urban change. See the preamble discussion from this reprinted blog entry, "Churches, community, religion and change," on the biking/parking issue, and the rest of the entry for a more general discussion about the changing roles of urban churches.
Other jurisdictions have cases where new churches haven't been approved, denied water connections, etc. And some jurisdictions don't favor new churches because it takes property off the tax rolls, and localities are dependent on property tax revenue for the bulk of their budget.
Islamic facilities have come under increasing scrutiny since 9/11, with opposition in many places, with people fearing the religion's more recent association with terrorism amidst the unending escalating nightmare in the Middle East, sparked by the US invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Still, as religious institutions, they have the right to open, whether or not people practice other faiths.
2. Negative public policy ramifications from the Wahhabi brand of Islam. But an article in the Washington Post ("A mosque is at the center of a raw debate in the South of France"), about opposition to the creation of a particular mosque in France, outside of Nice, where a brutal terrorist act last summer killed 86 people, raises an interesting point.
The opposition to this mosque comes about because of its association with the Wahhabi version of Islam, which treats non-adherents to that particular sect as apostates and enemies ("Wahhabism: Saudi Time Bomb?," PBS "Frontline").
There is a connection between Wahhabism and many of the people who have committed terrorist acts in Europe especially, but I think also in the US. And the Saudi Arabian government has actively supported the creation of Wahhabism-practicing mosques across Europe.
Leaders of Mosque En-Nour say they don't practice Wahhabism, but opposition centers around how the property was purchased by the Minister of Islamic Affairs of Saudi Arabia, and Saudi Arabia exports Wahhabism.
In the US, the First Amendment is absolute. A church regardless of its teachings can't be restricted.
But you can see why promotion of the Wahhabi religion would be considered counter to public safety and governments are supposed to protect the safety of the public.
What should be the policy when a particular religion espouses or supports violence against non-adherents?
Should such practice justify an exception to the First Amendment?