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 unshakable. 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.
Just in case the president’s commitment to the principle of governmental neutrality was still not clear, he continued by affirming the principle that our laws must be applied “without regard to race, or religion, or wealth, or status.”
So far as I know, no one in the mainstream press pointed out the utterly transparent falsity of Obama’s professed dedication to the principle that “in this country” everyone must treated by the government “without regard to race.” Ever since “affirmative action” morphed into racial preferences, it has been official government policy in this country to treat some people better and others worse because of their race, and Obama, who has staffed his administration with dedicated preferentialists, has never encountered a race preference policy that he opposed. And he has opposed every attempt to eradicate them.
Despite what he had taken such pains to “be clear” about, the next day the president narrowed his mosque remarks (Politico) or expanded them (The Hill), claiming that he was defending only the right but not the wisdom of the mosque near Ground Zero.
Whatever the president’s intent — before, during, or after his speech — certainly liberalism, inc. (the mainstream media, academia, most Democrats, etc.) insinuated or asserted that it was hateful, intolerant, and downright un-American to oppose the Ground Zero mosque. “We may not always agree with every one of our neighbors,” intoned New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg in a typical expression of this view, but:
[T]hat’s life and it’s part of living in such a diverse and dense city. But we also recognize that part of being a New Yorker is living with your neighbors in mutual respect and tolerance. …
The World Trade Center Site will forever hold a special place in our City, in our hearts. But we would be untrue to the best part of ourselves — and who we are as New Yorkers and Americans — if we said “no” to a mosque in Lower Manhattan.
The problem with these arguments is not that they are wrong, but that no one is arguing the opposite.
Conservatives and others who have opposed the Ground Zero mosque have not demanded that the government step in and say “no.” “No one disputes the right to build; the whole debate is about the propriety, the decency of doing so,” Charles Krauthammer explained.
Similarly, Dexter Mack, president of the local civic association, hopes the protests will dissuade the “insensitive” from introducing something in his neighborhood that most of his neighbors find “offensive,” even though they have the legal right to do so.
If you haven’t encountered Mr. Mack in reading about the controversy over the mosque, that’s because his neighborhood is not in lower Manhattan. He lives in the Brownsville neighborhood of Summerville, South Carolina. His objection is to the insistence of a new neighbor, Annie Chambers Caddell, who is white, on flying a Confederate flag on her house.
Caddell said she is terminally ill and came home to Summerville to die so she doesn’t care to fight over “dumb stuff.”
Caddell says the flag represents her birthright, her home and her heritage.
Ms. Caddell explained to a reporter:
That flag means a lot more to me than anything I can describe to you. … It’s my heritage and it’s my right.
James Patterson, a black man who lives next door, agrees that she has the right, like the critics of the Ground Zero mosque. Also like those critics, he says that exercising that right is “insensitive”:
“I know she has a legal right to do that on her property. But just because it’s legally right doesn’t make it morally right,” said Patterson, who is black.
I wonder how many liberals who think it insensitive and un-American to oppose the Ground Zero mosque are ready to stand in solidarity with Annie Chambers Caddell. I suspect not very many.
By contrast, I suspect most conservatives would say to her what they say to those who insist that the only location they will accept for their mosque is the very spot where it will antagonize the most people. I know I would, even though I grew up happy in a place and time where most people I knew thought “damnyankee” was one word. Why go out of your way to offend your neighbors?
In short, there is nothing inconsistent in our recognizing how important that flag is to her, and tolerating her veneration of it, while suggesting that she restrict its display to the inside of her house, where after all she would see it more often while not riling up her neighbors.
Civility, in short, should have a strong claim on our affections. I believe we can, and should, give it its due, and I believe we can do that without surrendering our rights to every heckler’s veto that comes along.