The First Amendment and the Ground Zero Mosque
Most countries that have afforded their citizens a bill of rights have determined that the citizens should have the “right to worship.” The Founding Fathers of the United States of America decided that the Bill of Rights should go further than this. Jefferson and Madison decided that the phrase “freedom of religion” would be a more appropriate way of preventing the government from interfering with individual liberties. The right to worship was a right that British serfs had in the early 16th century. When Henry VIII decided to declare Anglicanism as the official religion of England, the people still had the right to worship. But they were forced to worship in a certain manner. If the people had the “freedom of religion” with the ‘free exercise clause’ and the ‘establishment clause,’ then we could prevent the central government from stealing our ability to choose which deity we worship. Of course, there is never one single mention of “separation of church and state” in any of our founding documents. This is a sort of mystical metaphor that was derived from an informal letter that Jefferson wrote to the Danbury, CT Baptists a quarter century after the Constitution was penned. The closest the Constitution comes to this metaphor is the establishment clause. The founders were not concerned with the church grabbing power from the government. They were concerned with the government grabbing power from the various places of worship that exist. This is why Barack Obama has said, countless times now, that the Constitution is a “charter of negative liberties in that it says what the government can’t do to you…” Obama is right to some extent. The Constitution does say what the government can’t do to you. That is why we are still free. Does that make it a charter of negative liberties? Well, only if you believe that the people should sacrifice their freedom to the whims of bureaucrats in the District of Columbia. But Obama agrees with Jefferson on at least one thing: the federal government cannot seize a person’s decision to choose what faith he believes in. The federal government cannot prevent a group of people from peacefully assembling and worshiping whatever god they prefer. Why, then, are republicans in an uproar over the Times Square Mosque? We can all understand the vitriolic reproach that the average citizens feel with regards to this matter. As much as people will choose to ignore it, all 19 terrorists who assaulted the American spirit on September 11, 2001 were Muslims. The coordinators were all Muslims. These Muslims are on tape announcing Jihad against the United States. And now a man named Feisal Abdul Rauf, who has refused to denounce Hamas and has called America an “accessory to 9/11,” has chosen to build a mosque 600 feet from Ground Zero. The guttural reaction is to prevent this slap to the face of the families and citizens who suffered from the still festering wound that was inflicted less than a decade ago. But what if the government allows them to build the mosque? By definition, a terrorist’s job is to instill fear. His job is to abolish the idea that the United States of America is a bastion of freedom in a quagmire of suppression and hate. If we let Rauf build his mosque, the terrorists have lost. We will announce that the people still value the right, not only to worship, but to be free from any government intervention with regards to religion, assembly or speech. We must stand for the ideals that the country was founded on. If we choose to prevent the freedom of religion, then the terrorists have won. But even worse, we have sacrificed the bedrock of freedom from oppression that this “city upon a hill” was built upon.