At a Ramadan dinner at the White House last night, President Obama came out in support of the Cordoba House cultural center:
But let me be clear: as a citizen, and as President, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country. That includes 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. This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakeable. The principle that people of all faiths are welcome in this country, and will not be treated differently by their government, is essential to who we are. The writ of our Founders must endure.
We must never forget those who we lost so tragically on 9/11, and we must always honor those who have led our response to that attack â€“ from the firefighters who charged up smoke-filled staircases, to our troops who are serving in Afghanistan today. And let us always remember who we are fighting against, and what we are fighting for. Our enemies respect no freedom of religion.
I’m far from the first person to note that parts of the American Right come across as the American Taliban. Really, the most extreme of the whackjobs are just mirror images of the jihadists they oppose. If they are not as viscous and destructive as the Taliban it’s only because they know they’d do jail time if they got caught.
As you might imagine, this story triggered a paroxysm of Obama hate on the right blogosphere. They are certain more than ever that the “ground zero mosque” is just part of Obama’s plot to turn America over to the Caliphate.
If you think about it, U.S. history is mostly a struggle over who we are. The Founders launched the country with all of the highest ideals of the Enlightenment, yet they lacked the spine to abolish slavery or even free their own slaves. And from then on, we’ve gone through one spasm of racial violence and xenophobia after another — against African-Americans; native Americans; Catholics; Jews; Irish and eastern European immigrants; ethnic Chinese, both immigrant and native born; German Americans during World War I; Japanese Americans during World War II; etc. etc. Later generations look at the raging ignorance of their forebears and recognize that it was wrong. And then they pick a new group to victimize.
So, once again, we are challenged to determine who we are. Are we the idealists who respect liberty and the rule of law? or are we the brainless mob driven to destroy whatever it is we hate and fear?
And if any righties stumble onto this site and are reading this: The people who are trying to stop the building of Cordoba House are the brainless mob. The people who support it are the freedom-loving idealists. Keep that straight.
Ever since the Bill of Rights was ratified in 1791, religious conservatives have tried to get around the very first provision in it — Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. “Establishment of religion” was understood to mean making any one religion the official state religion. Thus, Congress may not write laws that favor one religion over another, and the due process clause of the 14th Amendment extended this restriction on the power of government to the states (per Gitlow v. New York, 268 U.S. 652  and other SCOTUS decisions) and any government chartered by a state.
And it’s interesting that this clause is the very first of the rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights. No doubt the founders were already concerned that religious factionalism was going to be a big issue in future America. They also had fresher memories of the religious wars of Europe than we do today.
As several of the Founding Fathers made clear (see, for example James Madison’s Federalist #10) they were concerned that some religious faction could take over the United States government. The First Amendment is our protection that even if followers of one particular religion did take over the White House and Congress, they could not write laws favoring their religion and imposing their beliefs on everyone else.
And for the past 219 or whatever years, American religious conservatives have complained about not being allowed to use government to enforce their religious beliefs and practices, while at the same time expressing fear that if X religious faction became a majority, those people might enforce their religious beliefs and practices.
I mentioned in an earlier post that I remember people speaking against John F. Kennedy for president in 1960 because they believed a Catholic president would take orders from the Vatican and allow the Pope to rule America. Eleanor Roosevelt wrote about this, “What seemed to me most deplorable was not the fact that so many people feared the strength of the Roman Catholic Church; it was that they had no faith in the strength of their own way of life and their own Constitution.â€ (h/t)
Yeah, pretty much. So in their ignorance and fear, the bigots (and y’all haters are bigots, whether you like it or not) form a howling mob to destroy the Bill of Rights, and tell themselves they’re doing it for “freedom.”