No matter what you may feel about people of other cultures and religions, no matter how profoundly affected you were by the heinous attacks on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution stands:
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.
Please note that the section on freedom of religion precedes those about the freedoms of speech, of the press, and of peaceable assembly. It doesn’t supersede them, of course, but the Founders figured it was important enough to state it right up front.
I am not a religious person. I have no dogma in this fight.
Maybe you feel that placing a Muslim cultural center — note: not a true mosque, despite the proposed area for prayer — several blocks away from the WTC site is insensitive. I certainly understand that (though I disagree); I felt the same way about the insensitivity of Charlton Heston’s NRA gathering in Denver, a short distance from Littleton, Colo., not long after the Columbine school shootings. Perceived insensitivity does not allow for the suspension of constitutional rights, however.
Lumping those who would gather at the Muslim center in lower Manhattan together with the bastards who plotted to and eventually did kill thousands of Americans (of a wide variety of ethnic and religious stripes, it must be noted — again and again and again, it seems) would be akin to likening responsible gun owners to the young, vindictive Columbine killers.
On a larger scale, putting all Muslims on par with the violent religious extremists of Al Qaeda would be like saying all Christians are members of the Ku Klux Klan. It’s a ridiculous notion: Decent, spiritual people being capable of such religious and ethnic loathing that they would commit acts of terror? Think about it: It can only be as true of one group as it is of the other.
As for free speech: Certainly the truly disinterested have as much constitutional province as any other American to sound off about any given issue. But rights carry responsibility, and relevance and sincerity have more than a little to do with the exercising of that right to its best effect.
So when a prom queen — no valedictorian, here — sounds off from Alaska about a matter in lower Manhattan, and for pure political gain, one wonders about responsibility and relevance and sincerity. This goes for the many whose loved ones were not incinerated or crushed in the Twin Towers on that horrific Tuesday morning, a morning of religious zealots’ violence against innocents.
Instead, Ms. Palin and the others who would make political hay of others’ simple desire to worship, please follow your better angels, and do whatever is within your great power of celebrity or legislative might to quell religious and cultural intolerance, that we may better understand one another, rather than brand and label and castigate and despise — just because they spell their God’s name differently.