The “Mosque at Ground Zero” controversy has been simmering (even boiling) for some time now, and a number of excellent (if a trifle vehement) points have been made in recent weeks, culminating in today’s decision to allow the project to move forward. This editorial from The Wall Street Journal’s Bill McGurn relates an interesting story about John Paul II to highlight a principle we often ignore, but one which is well worth keeping in mind:
Yet not all big questions can—or should—be reduced to legal right. Living together as neighbors in a free and inescapably diverse society requires more skills than just knowing how to hire sharp lawyers. Sometimes it requires leaders willing to sound a grace note, even yielding to the feelings of others who may not see our plans the same way we do.
Without doubt Pope John Paul II did not share the more malevolent interpretations attached to the presence of the Carmelites at Auschwitz. By asking the nuns to withdraw, he didn’t concede them either. What he did was recognize that having the right to do something doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do.
It’s important to remind ourselves that the best and most effective way to resolve a problematic situation is not always to find (and then rigorously apply) the “letter of the law.” Attempts to establish (or debunk) the legality of the Ground Zero Mosque have overshadowed a number of more prudential/less legalistic questions. Focusing on whether or not we (or our opponents) “can” do something often leads us to ignore the more serious question of whether or not we “should” — a question that often proves to be far more helpful (and far more complex).