Rebuild the Ground Zero Orthodox Church
September 10, 2010
by Diana Furchtgott-Roth
On September 11, 2001, terrorists attacked America. They attacked us at work. They attacked us at home. They attacked the innocent and defenseless. They attacked everything we believe in. They killed more than 3,000 innocent Americans, including my beautiful friend Barbara Olson.
We have rebuilt, and we are strong. We rebuilt the Pentagon wing. We are rebuilding a memorial at the World Trade Center. We are rebuilding America. Iraq, formerly a haven for terrorism, is a free country with democratic elections.
But we have not rebuilt St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, on the site of Ground Zero, which was completely destroyed in the attacks. Nothing was left except some Bibles, candlestick pieces and a bell clapper. Parishioners are meeting in Brooklyn, rather than at their own house of worship.
This needs to be remedied. We cannot let terrorists destroy a church, which was there since 1916.
Father Mark Arey, ecumenical officer of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, has said that he is not against the proposed 13-story Islamic community center and mosque to be built at 51 Park Place. But he does want the church rebuilt.
The original site of the Greek Orthodox church was at 155 Cedar Street. That proved impractical for rebuilding, because the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which has eminent domain over the entire parcel of land, wanted to use that location for a vehicle security center.
So the church had to give up its original location for a larger site at 130 Liberty Street, half a block away. At the end of 2008, the Port Authority agreed to give the church $60 million toward construction -- $40 million for a bomb-proof foundation, and $20 million for construction.
Then, in 2009, the agreement broke down. According to Port Authority spokesman Stephen Sigmund, St. Nicholas Church rejected the $60 million offer.
According to Evan C. Lambrou, former editor of the National Herald, the Port Authority told the church that the Port Authority was scaling back the project. When the church simply asked to see the new plans, the Port Authority used that as an excuse to call off the deal, thereby relegating the reconstruction project to oblivion.
What changed? The executive director of the Port Authority who negotiated the original agreement, Anthony Shorris, has been replaced by Christopher Ward. Gov. David Paterson has replaced Eliot Spitzer. Markets crashed, and New York has suffered financially.
But the central issue remains that St. Nicholas Church was destroyed by an attack on America. Now, government bureaucracy is standing in the way of its reconstruction. Whereas the mosque at Park 51 is proceeding steadily toward construction, St. Nicholas Church is stalled.
Mayor Bloomberg made light of the issue on a New York radio show on August 27. He said that the church would be rebuilt because "the archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Church lives across the street from me, and if you think I want him coming across with his staff and beating on my door and saying, 'Come on, Mike!' I'm not going to let that happen."
This sounds funny, but it won't necessarily lead to action.
"It's easy to pay lip service to religious freedom, but what are you actually doing about it? If you're going to support Park 51, you must also vigorously defend the rights of a Christian church to rebuild," Mr. Lambrou said.
Among the rubble of the World Trade Center is a once and future church. Nothing defines America more than freedom, and nothing defines freedom more than the free expression of religion. Terrorists destroyed a church on 9/11, and America will not be a whole, and the terrorists will not be defeated, until it is rebuilt.
Diana Furchtgott-Roth, former chief economist of the U.S. Department of Labor, was a Senior Fellow at Hudson Institute from 2005 to 2011.
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