One by one, members of the commission debated the aesthetic significance of the building, designed in the Italian Renaissance Palazzo style by an unknown architect.That is clearly the way it had to be done. But what should not be lost, in understanding that, is that the owner's freedom means that the owner has a choice. The owner is certainly not required to build a Muslim center and mosque on that site. Because it is a choice, it's not wrong for the community to ask: Why are you making this choice? Why are you doing something that feels so painful to us? The community isn't wrong to plead with the owner to choose to do something else with that property. It's not enough of an answer to say we are doing it because we have a right to do it.
What troubles me about the way the NYT presents the problem is that it tries to make it seem as though the people who question the choice to build the mosque don't understand or don't support the principle of freedom of religion — that they just hate (or dislike) Muslims and, for that reason, would deny them the same freedom other religious persons enjoy. Rights don't work like that. But we can completely understand and support a principle of freedom and still be critical of the way someone chooses to behave in this world. For example, I'm a big supporter of freedom of the press, and I don't feel the slightest bit hypocritical condemning something stupid I read in the newspaper.