September 11, 2010 was a day of public mourning in Lower Manhattan, punctuated at times by rival protests for and against the Park51 Muslim community center - an issue that has become intertwined in discussions of how to remember 9/11. September 12 began what we hope will be the reframing of public discourse on Park51.
In spite of overcast skies and rain, approximately 1,000 people took part in the Liberty Walk rally in support of Park51 and the right of all Americans to gather for worship and service. Sponsored by Religious Freedom USA and its partner organizations, the Liberty Walk featured a number of speakers, from Dr. Katharine Henderson, President of Auburn Theological Seminary, to Rabbi Jeremy Kalmanofsky of Congregation Ansche Chesed and Charles Wolf, a businessman who lost his wife on 9/11.
After an initial gathering and round of speech-giving at St. Peter's Church, one of the oldest houses of worship in the city, we sang Psalm 133 ("How good and how pleasant it is that brothers dwell together") en route to what we hope will become one of the newest. We charted our course down Broadway, turning on Liberty Street back towards the World Trade Center. In front of Ground Zero, we walked in silence, paying respect to those who were killed and making clear that religious freedom is not in competition with the chance to grieve. Following our period of silence, we then walked up Church Street to Park Place, where we gathered in sight of Park51 to sing the National Anthem and "This Land is Your Land."
Many in attendance were mourning friends and relatives they had lost, even as others held their own haunting memories of 9/11. But we all recognized the universality of the American Constitution and its values. Especially at our moments of greatest hurt and weakness, it is upon us to hold fast to our American identities and the principle of religious freedom that undergirds our democracy.
America is still grieving. But it must not do so in fear or at the expense of its national heritage. As Rabbi Jeremy Kalmanofsky mentioned in his address, citing Psalm 23, Ground Zero and the area around it is indeed a valley of the shadow of death. But we must not be afraid. For it is unguided fear that undermines our values and beliefs. Even as we continue to come to terms with the tragedy of 9/11, we must support Park51 rather than succumb to our darkest phobias.
Our values are at stake on Park Place. After scraping away the rhetoric of public discourse, we must see the controversy about Park51 as a test of religious freedom and American values. We must pass that test. The September 12 Liberty Walk showed us that we have the resolve.