President Obama was absolutely correct last week when he proclaimed that the Cordoba Initiative, under the Constitution, had “the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances.” Of course the president’s remarks set off a firestorm of responses from Republicans looking to capitalize on the issue in this election year. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, told Fox News Sunday that Mr. Obama’s view “demonstrates that Washington, the White House, the administration, the president himself seems to be disconnected from the mainstream of America.” Former House Speaker and potential Republican presidential candidate in 2012 Newt Gingrich said on his website last month simply “No mosque.” Lastly, of course, the Jesse Jackson of 21st Century political America, Sarah Palin, wrote in a Facebook message originally posted July 20, “Many Americans, myself included, feel it would be an intolerable and tragic mistake to allow such a project … to go forward on such hallowed ground.” These remarks and others like them represent what is so wrong in America today: deceit, intolerance, and disrespect for the rule of law.
In the first place, Palin is stretching the truth by using the “hallowed ground” rationale. The proposed site of the mosque is several blocks from Ground Zero and would be surrounded by a store offering lingerie, a peep show and sex toys, at least 11 bars, and a strip club. Calling this neighborhood hallowed ground is like attaching the same nomenclature to the strip in Las Vegas. Given the current makeup of the area, a mosque would add a spiritual influence to its fabric and actually make the district more hallowed. In any event, Palin’s statement, like many uttered by our politicians today, is misleading and has certainly led many Americans to a false opinion of whether the mosque should be built.
Newt, on the other hand, employs direct intolerance in his opposition to the mosque project. “No mosque” leaves little room for negotiation. How can someone who possibly aspires to be president be so vehemently discriminatory? Since there are already 10 churches and 3 synagogues in lower Manhattan near the Ground Zero site, a mosque would actually enhance the diversity of that community. Additionally, these are times when people of different faiths should come together to solve problems and be role models of tolerance and cooperation. I can imagine no greater tribute to those lost on September 11, 2001 than for the churches, synagogues, and mosques near Ground Zero to work together on projects that promote understanding and peace. With Newt’s thinking, this won’t be possible.
Lastly, Senator Cornyn should know that property rights under the Constitution are not a popularity contest. That a majority of Americans hold a certain opinion, in this case that the mosque should not be built in Lower Manhattan, does not make it law. The Constitution specifically grants all Americans equal protection under the law and protects us against deprivation of life, liberty, or property without due process of law. The builders of the mosque have broken no laws and are entitled to the same justice as churches and synagogues. Thus, they have a right to build their place of worship on their property. Cornyn’s inference is dangerous because it violates the Constitution by making mob rule king and minority rights arbitrary, and at the whim of the mob. At a time when property rights are already under attack from both courts and policymakers, all Americans should stand with the Cordoba Initiative in support of its property rights. By doing so, they may be defending a future attack on their own.
The debate over the so-called Ground Zero Mosque is representative of the lies, intolerance, and disrespect for the rule of law which have become so pervasive in American society. To gain an upper hand in a campaign, politicians lie. We see this all the time in campaigns where candidates have lied about their opponent or themselves. We have become intolerant by labeling those we don’t agree with“racist. More ominously, we have become a society averse to the rule of law by condoning leaders who lie under oath, lie to start wars and invade sovereign nations unprovoked. Instead of chastising the president for defending the Constitution, it would have been refreshing if Cornyn, Palin, Gingrich, and others who claim to support the same document, had come out in support of the president’s position. Perhaps in America’s current environment this is too much to ask?