Yesterday, New York Governor David Paterson injected himself into the strange debate over the Cordoba House community center (a.k.a. the "Ground Zero mosque") with a novel proposal. If the people behind the community center agree to move their facility somewhere else in New York City, the state would be happy to pay for it. My first reaction to this plan -- besides how deeply cowardly it is -- was basically: "Wow! That sure sounds like it would be crazy unconstitutional!"
So let's hear what the experts have to say about it. Via Justin Elliott, at War Room, here's Boston University law professor Jay Wexler:
"They're really giving government aid to religion -- the aid is the break betwen fair market value and whatever they're selling it for. That's almost like they're giving a bunch of money to mosque," said Wexler, author of a book on church-state legal battles.
Per Elliott, Paterson's office is "looking into" the whole Constitutionality of the plan. They might just want to reflect on the very terrible precedent this plan would establish, ably articulated by The Plum Line's Greg Sargent:
Other religious groups in New York will be asking why they aren't being given state land to build their own cultural centers. Will the state cheerfully throw free land at the next group whose plans spark controversy?
I'm pretty sure that it wouldn't even require "plans" that "spark controversy." If I were the head of a religious community in New York, I'd simply turn to the governor and say, "Now, give me my money for the cultural center I want to build, please?" The "controversy" would arise quite naturally, from the very first press release complaining of "state-sponsored mosques."
It's pretty clear that what Paterson is doing here is an attempt at balancing the interests between a religious community which has the right to practice religion and a vocal chorus of frantic, phobia-ridden citizens who have decided to conflate a major world religion with a homicidal death cult known as al Qaeda. The unrelentingly stupid part of this is that there is already a "Ground Zero mosque" in existence, so these are interests that clearly do not need to be balanced anew.