Andy Stone: A Stone’s Throw
August 18, 2010
Just for fun, let’s start this week with everyone’s favorite U.S. treaty: the Treaty of Tripoli. (I know it’s my favorite; I assume it must be yours as well.)
That’s the treaty written and negotiated in 1796, under President George Washington (does that name ring a bell?) and approved unanimously by the Senate in June 1797, under President John Adams (you may have heard of him, too). It brought an end to this nation’s war against the Barbary Pirates.
Without getting bogged down in details of that war, which actually went on for years after the treaty, I will just mention in passing that it is where the Marine Hymn got the phrase “… to the shores of Tripoli.” (Comes right after “From the halls of Montezuma.”)
We’re talking history here, folks.
My fondness for this particular treaty comes not from my love of the Barbary Pirates but from Article 11, which states that “… the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.”
And what patriotic American could resist embracing that rousing endorsement of the separation of Church and State? I mean, if it was good enough for George Washington, it’s good enough for me. (That applies to treaties, not false teeth. Just to be clear.)
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And that, of course, brings us swiftly to the question of the so-called Ground Zero Mosque.
I refer to it as “so-called” because: 1. I don’t think the people trying to build it call it that (if they do, it’s a serious PR goof); 2. It’s not quite at Ground Zero (it’s two blocks north and half a block west); and 3. It’s not strictly a mosque (it’s a Muslim Community Center, although it does include a mosque somewhere in among the meeting rooms and the swimming pool).
Other than that, Ground Zero Mosque is a nifty name.
Anyway, whatever you want to call it, the project seems to be the grand kerfuffle of the week.
People all across this great big nation of ours are outraged at the thought of a mosque anywhere near Ground Zero, although it’s interesting to note that the closer one gets to Ground Zero, the weaker the opposition becomes. Nationally, polls show about 65 percent opposed. In New York City, the opposition is a little over 50 percent. And in Manhattan – where, if you recall, Ground Zero is actually located – only about 30 percent are against the mosque. And, finally, the Lower Manhattan neighborhood Community Board voted 29-1 in favor of the mosque.
That’s interesting enough. But all of this polling stuff – this counting of out-of-joint noses – is really irrelevant.
(Not to get distracted, but some have said that its irrelevance is the point of the whole hullabaloo. It’s all politics and smokescreens. But that would be dishonest – and surely no true patriotic politician would try to distract voters by raising an uproar to divert attention from their own unpopular policies, would they? No, of course not. Forget it.)
It’s irrelevant because one of the basic points of our Constitution is that individual rights and liberties are not subject to majority rule. Just for fun, let’s note that such right-wing favorites as the Federalist Papers and Ayn Rand were strongly against any such “tyranny of the majority.”
That’s the point of the First Amendment’s statement that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
Congress – representing the majority – does not get to make laws that take away the rights of the minority. No matter how big the majority; no matter how small the minority.
And, by the way, those clowns who have been trying to claim that Islam is not really a religion (including the always ridiculous Pat Robertson) need to go back to kindergarten and start their education all over – because they clearly missed something very important along the way.
That said, of course, the First Amendment guarantees them the right to shoot their ignorant mouths off as loudly as they please. (“Putting the rant in ignorant.” There’s a motto for you, Mr. Robertson. Feel free to use it. No need to thank me.)
It is interesting that some of the people who are, in other contexts, screaming most vigorously that they are completely dedicated to the sacred Constitution of the United States, suddenly forget all about it when they feel the need to attack an unpopular religion.
But, folks, it doesn’t work that way.
The Constitution isn’t anything like your school cafeteria – “I’ll have a slice of pizza and two desserts and … ewww! None of those icky vegetables!”
Believing in the Constitution means you have to eat your vegetables.
You don’t have to like them. You have a constitutionally guaranteed right to hate your vegetables – but you still have to eat them.
So, if you buy the property (and conservatives love to remind us that the original draft of the Declaration of Independence referred to mankind’s “inalienable rights” as being “life, liberty and property”) you can build a mosque at Ground Zero. Or a Catholic Church next to an elementary school for boys. Or a ham factory (is there such a thing?) next to a synagogue.
And, yes, I know that Muslim countries don’t allow that kind of freedom – and that is why (read my lips, as that fellow used to say, I’ll go slowly) We. Are. Better. Than. Them. That. Is. The. Point.
And, just by the way, I say all this as someone who is deeply opposed to organized religion of any sort.
I think that through the millennia, organized religions – every single one of them – have been overwhelmingly sources of pain and suffering, fonts of repression and ignorance and human misery.
But the rules say we cannot limit the “free exercise” of religion.
And we have to play by the rules.
All the rest is just noise.
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