After Mosque Site Arson, Bredesen Calls for Religious Tolerance



It took a bit of prodding from reporters. At first, Gov. Phil Bredesen seemed about to demur, claiming not to know much about the Murfreesboro mosque arson fire that's all over the national news today. But then at a media availability this afternoon, he said the right things. Freedom of religion is what America is all about, and politicians who have exploited fear and bigotry in this controversy are crossing the line of decency in democracy. Why the governor didn't issue a statement a long time ago remains a mystery. But who are we to complain? At least one politician in this state still is capable of rational thought. Here's the Q&A:

Q: On the mosque controversy in Murfreesboro, what do you think about the fact that these people appear to be targeted by arsonists?

Bredesen: I'm not aware of the details of what went on down there, and obviously it's still being investigated and I don't have any business being in there. But this is a contentious time and there are a lot of strong feelings running. I guess I would ask everybody to remember that this is a country whose deepest origins are in religious freedom—it was founded by people who escaped to it to practice their religions—and to ask people to please have great respect for anyone's religious preferences and their rights to practice those in the United States. I think it goes right to the heart of what this country is all about.

Q: Do you think public officials have acted responsibly in terms of this controversy? Some of them have been heaping fuel on this.

Bredesen: I haven't found any contentious issue where there's not someone on either side of the equation who's willing to use it for driving wedges and so on. I think actually compared to some of the stuff we've gone through with religious and other kinds of intolerance in the past, I think actually it's been relatively muted as compared to what it could be. This is a country that in my lifetime interred Japanese Americans during the Second World War. It has been with the issue for me surrounding illegal immigrations. You know, there are some narrow issues here but please remember who we are as a country and, you know, have some tolerance. Perhaps if you're a Republican and want to gig a Democrat or a Democrat and want to gig a Republican then find some places to do it that don't drive these kinds of passions and hatreds in a way that I think is very un-American.

Q: The news of this led some of the networks, some of the morning TV shows. What does this do to Tennessee's image?

I don't think one incident like that reflects one way or the other. There are always those kinds of things that come up. Look, there are going to be people who do things in Tennessee for the rest of my life that I wish they hadn't done. Luckily, we do 10 times as many things that we're proud of here and would love to have displayed. I think of like when you're married it's OK to have arguments with your husband and wife but there's a line you don't go over if you plan to stay married. Everyone understands that, and the same is true in politics. You can fights about things. You can disagree about things. I think politics in this country works best when there's a line you don't go over. One of them is going after these things that are very fundamentally constitutionally protected in our country. It's possible to excite people about these things. But it's a line you don't go over because it's difficult to get people back on the other side once you do.

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