The Barometer demands reasoning and analysis from her students, not â€œI feel.â€Â Were well trained ethics students charged with the assignment of evaluating whether a Muslim community center and mosque should be built three blocks away from Ground Zero in New York City, they would seize first on the word â€œshould.â€ â€œShouldâ€ grabs them because they are trained to avoid confusing â€œcouldâ€ with â€œshould.â€Â In this emotional debate, the two have been confused. The First Amendment and religious freedom being what they and federal courts being staffed ideologically as they are, students would probably conclude as an unassailable proposition that a Muslim community center/mosque â€œcouldâ€ be built as proposed.Â They would research, however, and find that zoning laws have restricted, with the imprimatur of the courts, locations, heights, and appearances of religious structures.Â Further, the time, place, and manner constraints of the First Amendment do make a ding here and there on the absolutism of â€œcould.â€Â But, for sake of argument, give them the â€œcould.â€
Oh, but that â€œshouldâ€ question is the more difficult question and the one that requires higher quality ethical analysis than it has received.Â Rights-based ethical theory is but one view in a constellation of ethical theories, some shedding more light than others. Thoughtful students would then apply a few questions from other schools of ethical thought.
For a utilitarian, the overarching question grapples with whether the placement of the community center/mosque does the most good for the most people.Â Students would list here all the information they would have gathered about the effect the buildingâ€™s presence would have on whom.Â The stakeholders are numerous and diverse:
- There are the families of the 9/11 victims. Â We often give those with tender feelings a position of dominance in our analysis because they have already carried a burden we can neither fix nor explain.
- Muslims are stakeholders because the construction proposal alone has produced feelings and reactions that will affect public perception of them and their faith. Students are trained to take into account perception, despite firm belief their decision is the correct one for their companies.Â Perception, rightly or wrongly, can have a negative effect on their company.
- Contractors and construction workers (unions) are stakeholders in the economic sense because the project brings jobs, but they too will have the risks of negative perception because 70% of the public opposes construction.
- The United States is a stakeholder.Â The decision on the proposal carries international weight. Scholars and practitioners express various views on the symbolism that allowing the construction would carry.Â To some, its construction symbolizes an olive branch.Â To others, its construction would symbolize acquiescence and weakness.Â Â In the United States, we build monuments to honor our dead.Â In other cultures, monuments symbolize victory.Â This building at Ground Zero carries a possible double meaning and implication for U.S. perception abroad.
- Other religious organizations are stakeholders.Â What happens in New York will not stay in New York.Â There is precedent for religious construction here (see below on analysis of moral absolutism).
Another ethical theory has religious foundations.Â In Islam, the principle is expressed, â€œ No one of you is a believer until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself.â€ For the Jewish faith, the expression is, â€œWhat you hate, do not do to anyone.â€ In Christianity, Luke offered, â€œDo unto others as you would have them do unto you.â€Â Even Aristotle picked up on this idea, â€œWe should behave to our friends as we wish our friends to behave to us.â€ Translated from theory to practice Â the simple question here becomes: What if I were in the other personâ€™s shoes?Â How would I feel about my decision?Â My conduct?Â My contract terms?Â My proposal? In answering we begin to realize the pain others will experience if we proceed with our plans simply because we have a â€œrightâ€ to proceed.Â Those who demand the application of this test to the expansion of international business operations in third-world countries abandon it in their analysis of this tender situation.Â Businesses are expected to consider what their presence in a country will do to the standard of living, the health, and the stability of the government there.Â The same type of analysis would help in dealing with this Ground Zero proposal.
A final theory asks us to think more universally:Â Am I willing to live in a world that is governed by my rules and standards?Â This question demands constancy in its adherents.Â They do not falter when it is their ox that is gored. Those in this Ground Zero debate who have held firm to a moral absolute of religious freedom must be willing to occupy the same position on all such religious construction proposals, regardless of the nature and tenets of the faith of those submitting the building proposal.Â Students would find a flaw in their professed moral absolutism. Such universal principles were MIA when the construction of Mormon temples around the country faced fierce opposition on more than one occasion and in quite nearly every project.Â In those battles, protestors chained themselves to the gates of existing temples, not out of a desire to allow the construction to go forward, but to demand its halt because of their strong objections to the policies and tenets of the Mormon faith.Â How strangely silent our noble religious rights advocates of today were in the construction projects of a slightly different faith.Â
Are you willing to live in a world that follows the moral standards you tout today?Â Or will you change those standards when a new set of folks with a construction proposal comes along?Â If your support of a moral absolute depends upon the faith, well, logic being what it is . . . there is no absolute and we are back to â€œshould.â€Â â€˜Tis inconsistency that is the hobgoblin of emotional minds.Â Those now weighing in on the Ground Zero proposal need to think through carefully the moral absolutes they have imposed upon themselves with their focus on â€œcould.â€ If they insist on dwelling there, they will miss the depth a â€œshouldâ€ analysis can bring.