(this unfinished post was originally set for Angry Bear but started drifting in too political and idiosyncratic a way. I may or may not finish it, proceed at your own risk but feel free to comment)
Parts of the Left Blogosphere are ablaze with outrage over the recent Swiss vote to ban future construction of minarets. And given who was promoting the law and the current state of relations between various mostly immigrant islamic populations of western Europe and the larger communities of the various countries you would have to be a fool to deny that there is some bias entering the equation. But I think people need to step back and look at this in a larger context. Would you support a proposal to but a minaret next to Stonehenge? Or closer to home in any designated Historical District in any town or city in America? Would it be religious hatred to deny a permit to build a huge mosque in the center of Colonial Williamsburg? Because there is a Church with a steeple right at the center of Duke of Gloucester Street, wouldn't blocking a permit for a mosque of equivalent size and a minaret of the same height as the steeple be a priori proof of religious discrimination? http://www.history.org/Almanack/TourtheTown/flash.cfm
Well maybe. On the Planet Kumbaya. But don't expect a groundbreaking anytime soon, that a rule, regulation or law has an impact on the free exercise of religion does not a priori invalidate that rule or law, as a non-lawyer it seems to me that such a judgement rests on intent. More examples below.
I spent ten years in a County Planning and Building Department and most of what we did was to tell people what they could do with their own property, how they should undertake doing what we would allow them to do, and then charging them a big permit fee for the privilege of us giving them permission to do so. All I can say is that this was a small step up in popularity from my previous job at the Country which was telling people what their property and improvements were worth so we could tax them on a percentage of that. Whether you are in the Tax Assessment business or the Building Permit business the words "I am from the County and I am here to help" is almost guaranteed to earn you a bitter laugh, or in some of the remoter areas gunfire.
Leaving aside religion and minarets for a minute lets examine another constitutional right. Courts in this country at all levels have generally ruled since the late sixties that adult entertainment is protected speech. Now while most people I think would agree with this overwhelmingly when it came to simple print materials, that is no one is likely to go to court to try to get Tropic of Cancer banned as it was in the fifties or Ulysses as it was in the thirties, you do get periodic attempts to regulate still and moving images, and even more so live entertainment, but to the degree that this has been deemed constitutional protected speech simply banning it outright is difficult to impossible.
On the other hand it is very clear that local jurisdictions can regulate land uses, they can and do establish zoning regulations that prevent companies siting rendering plants in residential zones, or at a mundane level even siting a dry cleaners in a non-commercial zone. Under our Country Code we had something like 16 zones and 200 or so uses with a matrix showing was was allowed where. Now the Seattle area has for decades been marked by a series of strip clubs controlled by one family, or as the authorities have alleged in criminal case after criminal case one Family. Be that as it may they have lawyers who are extraordinarily skilled at arguing how lap dances are really protected speech under the First Amendment. Hmm okay, because in my younger days I did find some of those 'speakers' quite 'expressive' indeed. But around these parts most of our people are pretty socially conservative and wanted controls on these particular speakers bureaus. So the Country Council classified Adult Entertainment as its own Use and assigned it to the same zones as we would Fabrication Shops. Moreover just as many Uses have certain specific setback requirements they required such establishments to be so many feet from churches and schools. The end result was that the only legal location for these establishments was down by Paine Field and the Boeing Assembly Plant, convenient for high paid aircraft machinists but out of the way for everyone else.
The point being that my County deliberately went as far as it could to limit a constitutionally protected right. But I don't expect the ACLC to descend on us in full fury any more than even the most fervent property rights group would sue us for restrictions on locating rendering plants, living in a society means trading off absolute liberty for certain forms of security to enjoy those liberties which you reserve. So I refuse to get indignant about this minaret law even though I strongly suspect it was targeted at certain absolute rights to practice religion freely. There are probably several million muslims in Britain these days and they all have rights to practice their religion, but that doesn't mean they have the absolute right to purchase the nearest piece of private land to Stonehenge, put up a five hundred foot minaret and issue the call for prayers five times a day. And the same goes for the Pope wanting to build a cathedral or the Prophet in Salt Lake City wanting to build a temple, people have a right to protect their own historical, cultural, and legal standards within limits established by national and international law. If Switzerland decided it needed to protect his architectural heritage or even its tourist potential by banning minarets so be it. Or else the U.S. can remove all protections on Colonial Williamsburg, Britain can allow the construction of Stonehenge Disney, and Russia a MacDonalds in Red Square.
I worry about this because there really is a war on Secularism being waged by many of the worlds major religions. In recent months we have seen the Conference of Catholic Bishops moving to overtly intervene in politics:
And Pope Benedict has been showing clear signs of rolling back the reforms established under Vatican II
We have had months of stories about C-Street and its intent on establishing a form of Christian Dominionism around the world
http://emptywheel.firedoglake.com/2009/07/22/c-streets-waterloo/ to the point that in this last week they have been linked to a new Ugandan law mandated the death penalty for homo-sexual acts
Although they have been out of the news in recent years there is a very active and often violent movement to establish a new Hindu Nationalism (to be continued-maybe)