I was in Manhattan on 9/11. I can’t begin to understand the pain and grief of the families and friends who lost loved ones or saw them traumatized by injury. But like all of us in New York City that day, I experienced the shock and horror of what was happening right before my eyes. And I cried for thousands of people I would never know.
Now it’s time for all of those heroes to demonstrate their patriotism, too.
In New York right now, a struggle is going on over what it means to live in America. A Muslim congregation wants to build a mosque and Islamic center two blocks from Ground Zero. Not surprisingly, families of the victims have expressed their discomfort about the project. And some politicians like Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin are adamantly against it. Man-on-the-street interviews on radio and TV show that quite a few regular New Yorkers find it hard to accept a Muslim presence so close to the World Trade Center.
But . . .
The first amendment of the U. S. Constitution — the beginning of the “Bill of Rights” — says: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
There it is in constitutional black and white — the very first right of all our cherished rights — Congress cannot pass laws establishing religion or hindering its practice. That right is expressed in absolute terms because it is an absolute right. You can’t cut back on the right to worship of a group of Muslims because a bunch of terrorist thugs (who happened to be Muslim) attacked us. This would be like shutting down a Christian church because some local wackos (who happened to be Christian) bombed a health clinic that performed abortions. In either instance, punishing the guilty terrorists is fine. Impinging on the rights of others who share the same religion is not. The Constitution says so.
I have to admit, when I first heard the Muslim congregation was planning the mosque and center, I groaned to myself and thought, “Why there?” But then I realized that I should support this Islamic center. Because I believe in the Bill of Rights. Even when it’s tough to see the results of those rights. People all support the Bill of Rights when it comes to their rights to worship or speak or whatever. That’s easy. Patriots prove themselves by supporting those rights when it’s tough — when an Islamic group wants to build a mosque in the shadow of the World Trade Center.
And just in case the Bill of Rights isn’t enough to make you support the Muslim congregation, consider the message of tolerance and respect that New York will send to the world by allowing the building of a mosque so near Ground Zero. Compare that message with the one the government of the United Arab Emirates, an Islamic country, just issued: No more e-mails or texting on BlackBerries.
It’s enough to make you proud to be an American, isn’t it?
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