Lately we have seen conservatives remind us at every opportunity of the Constitution’s role in limiting federal government. When it comes to the Constitution’s role in defining us as a decent and fair people, not so much. Two issues brewing in our country right now bring into focus our Constitution and what it says about us as citizens of the world. In one case, the proper conclusion seems to me as obvious as the nose on one’s face. In the other, I am surprised to find some ambiguity.
First, let’s look at the case of the mosque/community center being renovated in downtown New York City. I say renovated, as opposed to the usual media jargon of “built” because the Muslim organization in question already owns a building on the controversial site. The uproar is that this mosque is being “built” in too close a proximity to the ruins of the World Trade Center which was destroyed by Muslim terrorists in September of 2001. Let’s start by pointing out the facts that make the argument absurd:
- As already stated, Muslims have been at this site for over 20 years already.
- You cannot see Ground Zero from the site.
- You cannot see the site from Ground Zero. Hence the site does not “overlook” Ground Zero.
- Ground Zero, supposedly “sacred”, has been left neglected for almost ten years. Where is the uproar over that?
Let’s go back to the First Amendment: “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.” Case closed, nothing to see here, time to move on. But no, some still want to debate. Well, let’s look at a debate that makes the matter even clearer. On MSNBC’s Hardball Dan Senor, a foreign affairs “expert” and Scott Stringer, Manhattan Borough President, debated the mosque issue. The host, Chris Matthews remained more or less neutral and let the two gentlemen hash it out.Vodpod videos no longer available.
For me, the most striking part of the debate was this statement by Dan Senor, who opposes the mosque:
I think there‘s an opportunity for national political figures and city and state political figures—Mayor Bloomberg, Attorney Cuomo, Mr. Stringer—to step forward and approach the imam and say, look, we understand your objectives. We understand what you are trying to do. You‘re objectives are good. Your motives are good.
We just think you are going to undermine them. You are—you are provoking something that could wind up being more divisive. And this is going to be a step backwards for New York.
This reminded me of the scene in Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun” where a black family planning to move into a white neighborhood is approached by a member of the neighborhood association and is offered a payment not to move in. Mr. Lindner from the association says:
It’s a matter of the people of Clybourne Park believing… ..rightly or wrongly, as I say… …that for the happiness of all concerned…that our Negro families are happier……when they live in their own communities. — A Raisin in the Sun
When he doesn’t get the reaction from the black Younger family that he expected, he says,
I don’t understand why you people are reacting this way! What do you think you’ll gain……by moving to a neighborhood where you aren’t wanted…and where some elements…People get worked up when their way of life…and all they’ve worked for is threatened.
This is basically what Dan Senor wants to say to the imam. “It’s in your best interest to appease the folks who are uncomfortable with you.” In “A Raisin in the Sun”, Walter Lee Younger throws Mr. Lindner out on his ass. They move into the white neighborhood. That is exactly the same approach that the imam has taken and good for him! Of course, the amazing thing is that these Muslims have already been a part of this community for almost 30 years. Did 9/11 suddenly make them evil?
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg stated the case quite eloquently:
Whatever you may think of the proposed mosque and community center, lost in the heat of the debate has been a basic question: Should government attempt to deny private citizens the right to build a house of worship on private property based on their particular religion? That may happen in other countries, but we should never allow it to happen here.
This nation was founded on the principle that the government must never choose between religions or favor one over another. 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.
Let us not forget that Muslims were among those murdered on 9/11, and that our Muslim neighbors grieved with us as New Yorkers and as Americans. We would betray our values and play into our enemies’ hands if we were to treat Muslims differently than anyone else. In fact, to cave to popular sentiment would be to hand a victory to the terrorists, and we should not stand for that.
For that reason, I believe that this is an important test of the separation of church and state as we may see in our lifetimes, as important a test. And it is critically important that we get it right.
On Sept. 11, 2001, thousands of first responders heroically rushed to the scene and saved tens of thousands of lives. More than 400 of those first responders did not make it out alive. In rushing into those burning buildings, not one of them asked, ‘What God do you pray to?’ (Bloomberg’s voice cracks here a little as he gets choked up.) ‘What beliefs do you hold?”
The attack was an act of war, and our first responders defended not only our city, but our country and our constitution. We do not honor their lives by denying the very constitutional rights they died protecting. We honor their lives by defending those rights and the freedoms that the terrorists attacked.
Bloomberg makes this case so clearly that I am amazed that there is still room for debate.
The Fourteenth Amendment has also come under attack as Senators Lindsay Graham and Mitch McConnell call for its reevaluation in light of our broken immigration system. It is Section 1 that currently raises concern: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” As a result of this amendment virtually everyone (except children of diplomats) born in the United States becomes a citizen automatically.
The liberal media is having a collective aneurysm over how we could even think of tinkering with this amendment. To the surprise of my liberal friends, I don’t understand the outrage. The 14th Amendment’s original intent was to protect the citizenship of former slaves whose legitimacy had been challenged based on their African heritage. News flash: anyone who was ever a slave in this country is long since dead. The citizenship of blacks, with the exception of Barack Obama, is no longer an issue. The citizenship part of the amendment has served its purpose. Obviously the piece about due process applying to citizens needs to remain untouched but why on Earth should anyone born here automatically be a citizen? I believe it is completely appropriate that the birthright of American citizenship should apply to anyone who has at least one parent who is a citizen. I also believe that children of legal immigrants should become citizens automatically when their parents do. To put it simply, children born in the United States should inherit the highest level of citizenship status attained by either one of their parents.
It is a legitimate question to ask what problem would actually be solved by changing our citizenship standards. I honestly don’t know but I don’t see what is sacrosanct about the status quo. Furthermore, we do need to send a message to those who are here illegally that they will not enjoy the benefits of those who are abiding by the law. Those benefits include any that might be enjoyed by their children. Under the surface of this debate is the whole question of national sovereignty and the right of any country to dictate who may or may not reside there. On my more 1960’s free-love days, I favor a borderless world where we all live together in harmony. Human nature makes that an impossibility.
As a post script, and probably deserving of a full article on its own, a Federal judge struck down California’s Proposition 8 which denied gay couples the right to marry. History shows that this is a tolerant country. Those that try to restrict the freedom of others always end up on the wrong side of history. With any luck this federal ruling will lead to a Supreme Court decision guaranteeing the right of all loving people to marry whom they please throughout the land.