At 41,000 square feet, the recently completed Old Apostolic Lutheran worship center in Woodland, Wash., surely classifies as a "mega church." The two-story edifice includes two lobbies, a large sanctuary, two multipurpose rooms, an extensive nursery, a massive dining hall, and lower level and balcony seating. Its congregation has swelled to more than 5,000 parishioners -- a number too big for the church's other two sites to accommodate -- and so the new location seemed to be a necessary solution.
Construction of the church was not a small task. After all, the house of worship is the size of a small department store. Over the course of more than ten years, community volunteers poured their time, money and energy into the project's completion and in April of this year, worshippers gathered for the first service.
Notably absent from this process were boisterous naysayers. There were no cries of "creeping Christian law" or conspiratorial narratives proclaiming a Lutheran takeover of America. The church's leadership was not attacked, there were no suggestions that clergy would brainwash the Sunday faithful with violent teachings, nor was there a resistance movement mobilized to protest the erection of the building's first pylon. But why would there be? Such hostilities are apparently only reserved for Muslims who, upon seeking to build similar worship places throughout the country, face unbridled scrutiny, skepticism, defiance and even violence.
In the last two weeks in particular, strong anti-Muslim sentiment has resurfaced in the United States over plans for the construction of mosques in Tennessee, Wisconsin, California and Illinois. Opponents have crawled out of the woodwork to combat what they view as monster mosques -- buildings that are symptomatic of growing Muslim madness.
The feverish tantrums that erupted in 2012 over plans for the Park51 Islamic Community Center, the so-called "Ground Zero Mosque," festered and spread outwards from Manhattan and into the heartland of America. Other local projects to build mosques got swept up in the flood of Islamophobia and were targeted and attacked by Tea Party activists, GOP politicians, evangelical religious leaders and right-of-center citizens who espoused negative views of Islam and Muslims. In Murfreesboro, vandals spray-painted the words "not welcome" across a sign announcing plans for the construction of an Islamic center. Later, arsonists attempted to burn the mosque down before it was ever built, setting fire to four pieces of equipment that were housed on the property. In Temulca, Calif., agitators shouted racist slogans through bullhorns and held up signs that said "No More Mosques in America." Some even brought dogs to the protest, hoping to offend Muslim sensibilities.
Though the controversy eventually simmered down (bouts of hate like these often operate cyclically), it did not go away completely. It was like a vein at the surface, ready to be tapped the minute political, economic or social anxieties flared.
Now, though, reemerging opposition to mosques is being refracted through a different, more strategic, lens. Those challenging the construction of Muslim places of worship in Tennessee, Connecticut and Minnesota, for example, claim that their disapproval isn't really about Islam, but about things like land, zoning ordinances, parking issues and legal codes. They say they are not Islamophobic but rather, are concerned about the well-being of their city and honoring the laws that are in place regarding things like construction and traffic.
To be blunt: Bull excrement has never had such a stench.
Maybe some individuals harbor realistic concerns about things like traffic and zoning, but by and large, these issues are being used to advance an anti-Muslim agenda and deflect such labels as "Islamophobe."
The St. Anthony, Minnesota, City Council's recent rejection of a proposed Islamic center on issues of "zoning" marks the first time in 7 years that a house of worship has been blocked by the local government. The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) has asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate anti-Muslim bias in the decision. During a hearing to determine the project's fate, some citizens made it crystal clear that their concerns over the legal issues were fronts for a deeper hatred of Islam. Several residents disparaged the Muslim faith and said that it was not welcome in their town. One man said the religion was "evil" and embraces violence.
In Tennessee, Rutherford County Chancellor Robert Corlew ruled that construction approval for the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro was void and agreed with mosque opponents who said that there was not sufficient public notice of the meeting where construction had been approved two years earlier. (What this signals, apparently, is that while the laws were quite valid, as was the initial approval, those laws don't matter because they didn't allow enough time for a full-blown hysteria to erupt and thwart the process altogether). Two years earlier, a string of witnesses questioned whether or not Islam was a legitimate religion and claimed that the mosque would be a command center for the spread of Sharia law. While construction of the mosque may still continue, no one can move in.
In Norwalk, Conn., a the Zoning Commission chalked up a similar argument, denying construction of a mosque because it was "out of scale and does not allow for adequate screening and buffering."
This latest adoption of a legalistic tone is identical to the Sharia scare and the advancement of anti-Sharia laws in states like Kansas. When Islamophobes knew they couldn't win on their anti-Muslim rhetoric (Oklahoma's anti-Sharia law was declared unconstitutional for that reason), they removed specific references to Islam or Muslims and proceeded to push the bills through halls of power using language that was more likely to gain traction and eventuate in passage based on technicalities.
If not for zoning ordinances, public notice, and parking issues, would the opposition be okay with the construction of these mosques? Absolutely not. They would search for another leg on which to stand, no matter how shaky.
Things like "stealth jihad" and "creeping Sharia" will not come out of these mosques. That's because they do not exist. What does exist, though, is growing Islamophobia and those who are willing to take their animosity towards Muslims and Islam to whatever end is necessary in order to discriminate against them.
They warn about a minority religion that seeks to erode the rights and freedoms and civil liberties of peace-promoting, apple-pie eating Americans. But in the end, it is they who have hijacked our legal system, using things like parking lots and traffic flows as convenient smokescreens for their hatred of Muslims and as weapons of discrimination against a group of people who are being denied their constitutional right to worship freely.