It turns out that there is a state in the union that has enacted a broad standard of religious equality that would fully allow for the development of religious community structures such as the Cordoba House in downtown New York City, without regard to the religion of the organizers. This center of enlightenment and civil libertarianism is none other than...Arizona!
That's right. The same state that passed a tough new immigration law
this year, and flirted
with one requiring presidential candidates to provide their birth certificates, also passed a law this year that would expand religious freedom in the matter of building houses of worship. And its conservative proponents fully acknowledge that it applies equally to Muslims as it does to Christians.
As the Arizona Republic
State lawmakers strengthened churches' rights this year, passing a law that prohibits cities and towns from using zoning codes or land-use rules to restrict where religious facilities such as churches, mosques or synagogues can locate.
Planned mosques in New York, California and Tennessee have spurred community opposition recently. But any mosque planned for Arizona could build where it pleased, as long as it complied with any local zoning and building requirements that would apply to other development.
The law, considered the first of its kind, was backed by most of the Legislature's Republicans and opposed by most Democrats, who argued that it gives religious institutions preferential treatment over the concerns of cities or residents.
"We're seeing a lot of churches coming into areas that were not historically where churches wanted to be, like industrial areas and downtowns," said bill sponsor Rep. Steve Yarbrough, R-Chandler. "The basic goal was to see that churches were not discriminated against but treated similarly to other land users."
Yarbrough also told the paper that the purpose of the law is not to elevate religious groups, but instead to "just level the playing field" in terms of zoning laws. And, he added, this would apply equally to a Baptist church or a Muslim mosque.
Another supporter of the bill is Deborah Sheasby from the conservative Center for Arizona Policy. What does she think of such a law protecting the Cordoba House? "Whether or not (the mosque) should be there is a different question than whether or not the government should stop it," Sheasby said. "From a legal perspective and generally speaking, the government needs to be neutral towards religion."