St. Louis is a diverse city, one that, like New York, has a Muslim population that is watching to see what their neighbors will say about a proposal to open a religious space a few blocks from Ground Zero.
This is my thought, expanded somewhat from a message I posted on Twitter last weekend: Count me among those Americans who believe that President Barack Obama, and New York City's own mayor, are right that our national reaction to the planned Muslim community center near ground zero is an important test of some fundamental issues.
President Obama explained the principle at stake this way: people of all faiths are welcome in this country, and will not be treated differently by their government. That principle, he said, is essential to who we are as Americans. Ignoring the principle betrays our Founders. Mayor Mike Bloomberg, giving the most thoughtful speech of his tenure, asked and answered the question that most concerned me: "Should government attempt to deny private citizens the right to build a house of worship on private property based on their particular religion? That may happen in other countries, but we should never allow it to happen here. This nation was founded on the principle that the government must never choose between religions or favor one over another. The World Trade Center site will forever hold a special place in our city, in our hearts. But we would be untrue to the best part of ourselves and who we are as New Yorkers and Americans if we said no to a mosque in lower Manhattan."
My answer, then, is the same as the President's and the New York mayor's.
The building in question is private property, correctly zoned; and its owners have the right to use it as a house of worship. The same Constitution that protects the rights of citizens to use their private property legally also restricts a government from singling out a single religion to favor or to hinder. No court in America would rule the contrary.