Do the right thing

Faith in the American Way


All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.
—Old saying

I’ve been listening to the American conversation about building a Muslim community center near the site of the World Trade Center terrorist attacks, and it literally makes me sick to my stomach. Nobody gives a damn what I think on these sorts of “national” issues, but I’ve been writing about religion for a while now, and I feel as though I’ve developed some kind of perspective about religion and where it intersects with reality.

I’m a journalist, and as such, I hold the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America as my beacon. It, more than any other rule, forces me to speak up when I feel I should and sometimes to shut my mouth and open my ears when my inclination is to tell someone else they don’t have the right to say what they’re saying, however they choose to say it. Here it is:

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.

Our country is full of political hate. Our places of worship are full of love. I’ve been to more places of worship than I can count in my head, and I have never heard any minister in any church preach that members of other religious faiths should have their rights diminished.

I’m afraid the opposite is true in politics. Politicians want to single out members of other races and religions for attack. It appears to me that people are so apathetic toward politics that it takes hatred to motivate anyone enough to act. And people who act out of hatred are the flipside of that quotation at the top of this essay. People who act out of hatred are the triumph of evil.

Islam did not attack America or the Twin Towers. The men who flew those jets into the Trade Center may have been Muslim, but they did not speak for Muslims. They were men; did they speak for all men?

I guess my final straw on this was when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid decided to get on the pro-hate bandwagon and say, through a spokesman, that while he respects the First Amendment, the “mosque” should be built someplace else.

First off, it’s not primarily a mosque, and Reid knows this. But even if it was a scale model of Mecca, Reid’s lip-service support for the First Amendment is irrelevant and proof of his own hypocrisy. Second off, that’s the kind of cowardly defense people always use when they’re talking about restricting someone else’s rights. To use another First Amendment analogy, when people want to restrict the ideas of other people, they say, “You should restrict your own speech, self-censor, to protect the children.” If they’re trying to find an acceptable way to single out and express hatred for Hispanics, they say, “This is America, Hispanics should learn to speak English.” If language is not the most fundamental aspect of speech, which the First Amendment protects, then I’d like to know what is.

The haters have the right to talk, but people of conscience must also speak up to drown out the haters. The haters must be exposed as political operatives, not patriotic Americans or even religious people. And when guys like Harry Reid—the leadership of the leaders of this country—choose to stand on the side of haters out of political expediency, we’ve got a serious problem.

The First Amendment is about religion, speech, assembly, and redress of grievances. When did we decide that these concepts were no longer guaranteed in this country?