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Ground Zero Mosque & International Burn A Koran Day: Group Discussion Guide

If you are just starting your freethought campus group, you might be in need of some fresh ideas to kick off the quarter. Even if you are an established group, oftentimes it can be difficult to come up with new topics every week for the duration of the academic calendar. These meeting topic activity packets should provide you with some materials and discussion questions that you can use to spur dialogue and conversation at your meetings.

Teaser Questions:

  • Where is the line between expression religious freedom or freedom of speech, and bad ideas or deliberate offense?
  • How should we handle the general "silent treatment" the Muslim leadership has given to Islamic extremists?
  • Do the actions of members of a particular religious group impact our views of what is and is not appropriate?

Ground-Zero Mosque

Unless you've had your head in the sand for the last month, you've heard the brouhaha about the proposed "Ground-Zero Mosque," or (more accurately) an Islamic cultural center about a five-minute walk from the site of the World Trade Center. Right-wing fundamentalists are asking questions like "What system would allow a mosque at Ground Zero?" (um, the one outlined in the U.S. Constitution?) while a New York Post front-page headline screams "Hamas Big Backs Mosque: Terror boss likes GZ site."

Cooler heads have also come down on different sides of the issue. Sam Harris posits that Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf's silence on the extremist members of his faith is grounds for concern. Christopher Hitchens writes that the arguments against the Islamic center are "stupid and demagogic," while also acknowleding some concerns about the Imam's motives and societal views. And Jon Stewart of the Daily Show investigates the project's funders in comparison with Fox News' coverage of the controversy, with hilarious findings.

Discussion Questions:
  • Opponents say the center is "too close" to Ground Zero. How much distance, then, would be necessary for it to be ok?
  • How far should America go to protect the sensitivity of the victims and their families?
  • In what ways would preventing the construction impact the freedoms of Muslim Americans who wish to practice in New York City?
  • While there isn't any legal reason that Imam Rauf can't build on this particular site, many people have said it's not an appropriate location. Is that a valid argument? What makes a location appropriate or inappropriate in this situation? Can we legislate "appropriateness?"
  • Should we be more concerned with the silence with which most Muslims regard the extremists? Is there a way to use this controversy as a way to constructively highlight that need? How?
  • Is Fox News evil or stupid?
  • The religious right has been using this controversy as a huge fundraising opportunity. Are we just filling their pockets?

International Burn A Koran Day

On September 11th, the Dove World Outreach Center in Florida is hosting International Burn A Koran Day. Yes, that's right - on 9/11, a Christian church will be burning the Islamic holy text. Hemant Mehta on the Friendly Atheist blog has discussed the event, interviewed the pastor, and reported on the National Association of Evangelicals opposition to the event. But wait, that's not all...

The Gainesville, FL fire department denied the group's permit for the event. When the church insisted that they would hold the book-burning event anyway, their insurance company cancelled their policy. As a result, their bank called their mortgage due in full immediately. So the church is now facing $140,000 of immediately-due debt, but still insists that it will move forward with its plans. But wait, that's not all...

On August 24th, the pastor of the church announced that the armed Christian organization Right Wing Extreme will be providing between 500 and 2,000 armed militia members to protect the church. The pastor claims that the defense is necessary in light of death and terror threats the church has received.

Discussion Questions:

  • Should book-burning be considered a method of freedom of expression? What about when it targets one minority group? Where is the line between free speech and hate speech?
  • How does this compare to the Muhammad chalkings or Everybody Draw Muhammad Day?
  • Is a right-wing extremist militia a reasonable precaution for the church, or a lit stick of dynamite?
  • Do situations like this provide cause to re-evaluate the common interpretation of the 2nd Amendment and gun control laws?
The Secular Student Alliance does not in any way endorse International Burn A Koran Day and strongly discourages its affiliates from participating.
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