When my grade school teacher explained the concept of free speech, she cited an extreme example to make her point. Free speech, she said, means letting the Nazis march down Main Street. Indeed, a notable Supreme Court case dealt with that very scenario in Skokie, Illinois. Our freedoms are put to the greatest test when exercised by those who anger us. As Ron Paul once put it, “We don’t have the freedom of speech to talk about the weather.”
As an academic example, most people will agree with the Nazi case. But then, we don’t see too many genuine Nazis these days. Those who do exist arrive more as curiosities than threats. A better modern test for how we value our freedom is the extent to which we’re willing to respect that of Muslims. After all, it’s been a while since Nazis killed thousands of Americans.
A group of Bosnian Muslims in Minnesota have been turned away from a rural county where they sought a parcel of land for a cemetery. While a majority on the board which made the decision cited environmental concerns, at least one dissenting vote claimed there was no good reason to deny the land use. From the Minneapolis Star Tribune:
… Some assert the cemetery would pollute groundwater and increase congestion on a rural highway. Others say the board was responding to an anti-Muslim backlash, evident in derogatory social media comments and the lingering belief that the Bosniaks — as Bosnian Muslims are called — were being held to a different standard than Christians buried in the county.
The dispute resembles arguments over proposed Muslim cemeteries in other parts of the country, as well as a recent example in Dakota County where a judge ruled that Castle Rock Township’s attempt to block a Muslim cemetery was “arbitrary and capricious” and allowed it.
Several neighbors raised concerns that the Muslim “green burial” tradition of burying bodies without caskets would pollute their drinking water. Some people compared it to burying livestock.
Others responded that burying a human body in a shroud is better for the earth than chemical-embalmed bodies in caskets full of hazardous metals.
The story highlights the potential for municipal planning and zoning to be abused. It can be easy to conceal governmental discrimination within notions of “environmental concern” or “character and nature of the neighborhood.” If this were a Christian cemetery, would it have been denied? We may never be able to answer that for sure. Such ambiguity is bad for everyone’s liberty.