PEN American Center, a member of NCAC’s coalition, released a statement in support of the proposed Park51 Community Center project, calling First Amendment freedoms “the birthright of all and our best defense.” NCAC is grateful to PEN for expressing thoughts we share about this fear-based controversy.

The statement reads:

As members of the American literary community who believe in the universality of human experience and human rights,

As proud citizens and residents of a country that recognizes the free exercise of religion as a fundamental benchmark of freedom of thought and expression,

And as PEN members pledged to oppose any form of suppression of freedom of expression in our community and country, as in the world elsewhere,

We stand with Mayor Michael Bloomberg, with religious leaders of all faiths, with political leaders of both major parties, and with all our friends and neighbors who support and celebrate the freedom to construct the Park51 Islamic Community Center on its city-approved site in lower Manhattan.

We oppose all efforts to circumscribe this freedom; we deplore the rhetoric of suspicion that seeks to deny our common humanity and shared aspirations; and we emphatically reject the tyranny of fear.

None of this is to deny the anguish of those who lost family and friends in the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, nor is it to diminish the trauma we experienced and still clearly share.

Nevertheless, we are sure no lasting comfort or peace can come from abridging the rights of others or yielding to distrust and fear.

We have faith that the freedoms enumerated in our Bill of Rights are both the birthright of all and our best defense.

We invite everyone to join with us in reaffirming those freedoms and the power of civil discourse as the true vehicle for healing.

Kwame Anthony Appiah, President
for the Board of PEN American Center

Appiah said the organization was moved to speak out by the increasingly rancorous tenor of the debate. “Today, when the world’s divides are as much religious as national, we know the need for conversation across our differences is as urgent as ever.”