August 04, 2010

On Mosques

"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."

This staff editorial in the National Review -- like so much of the rhetoric deployed in opposition to the proposed mosque near Ground Zero -- is disgusting. The passions expressed in it -- and it is, fundamentally, an argument based on emotion and not reason -- are a threat to American values and freedom. On the one hand, you would think "conservatives" would be pretty clear on matters related to the freedom to practice one's religion -- not to mention private property rights. But when that religion is Islam, what passes for "conservativism" these days apparently takes a vacation.

Writing as a Christian, I am firmly within the majority in the United States. As a Protestant Christian, I am also within the majority. And as an Evangelical Protestant Christian, I belong to the largest subset of all Christians in the United States. I treasure the way the 1st Amendment protects my rights to worship. But I also understand that the 1st Amendment -- the "first draft" of which was written by one of my ancestors -- exists more to protect religious minorities than those of us in the majority. It's an amendment written with Huguenots and Quakers and Catholics in mind. Where the Bill of Rights really has its value is as a check against the tyranny of the majority. It's for times like these when the passions of Americans -- stoked by the memory of September 11th -- cause us to do and say things that spit in the face of the freedoms we claim to cherish.

Defending America starts with defending our values. "We" are America. And "we" are Christians and Jews and Muslims and Athiests. A movement to restrict the freedom of one of us to worship -- and a corresponding move to demonize a minority religion -- is an affront to us all.

As the Republican mayor of New York put it yesterday, "I believe this is as important a test of the separation of church and state as any we may see in our lifetime - and it is critically important that we get it right."

Update: Kevin D. Williamson of the National Review is quite right that his editorial board never called for government action. That doesn't mean the stance offered by the National Review isn't an affront to the principle of freedom of religion as enshrined in law through the 1st Amendment -- which is why I led with that text. This about more than doing the legal thing; it's about doing the right thing by way of American values. Demonizing a minority sect is not the right thing. Neither is seeking to restrict their right to free assembly through a public campaign of intimidation. (Also, I don't the sense that Mr. Williamson has ever stepped inside a mosque, but I'm sure most mosques in the United States would welcome the debate he suggests. Just take your shoes off, guys.)