Before the ink could even dry on our Constitution back in the late 1700s, attempts were already made at distorting its meaning or flat-out ignoring it. A prime example was the passage and enforcement of the Alien and Sedition Acts, part of which enabled the federal government to criminalize criticism against government officials. It flatly went in the face of the Bill of Rights, yet many of the same people who had a part in passing the First Amendment also supported the Sedition Act. Perhaps the clear words of the First Amendment sounded good to them at the time, that is until they themselves came to power in government. Then those words became a stumbling block to their agendas.
[picapp align=”left” wrap=”true” link=”term=stephen+breyer&iid=6650877″ src=”http://view.picapp.com/pictures.photo/image/6650877/supreme-court-justices/supreme-court-justices.jpg?size=500&imageId=6650877″ width=”156″ height=”201″ /]The plain words of the Constitution have always been misinterpreted, stretched inappropriately or outright ignored over the years by government officials. With this background in mind, it maybe should come as no surprise that Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer recently told ABC News that the right of individuals in this country to burn Korans, which has been taken as a given by most in the recent media coverage of the cancelled plan to do so by a Florida pastor, is still something the courts may end up ruling on in the future.
It looks like efforts to ban the wearing of veils have finally succeeded in France:
The French senate approved Tuesday a law banning any veils that cover the face — including the burqa, the full-body covering worn by some Muslim women — making France the first European country to plan such a measure. The law passed by a vote of 246 to 1, with about 100 abstentions coming essentially from left-leaning politicians. The legislation was overwhelmingly approved by the lower house of parliament in July and will go into effect next spring.
In the ongoing debate over the proposed “Ground Zero Mosque,” those opposing it have often claimed that they are not arguing that government should have the ability to stop the construction of the site. They say that the other side’s constant criticism that the opposition to the mosque represents an attempt at restricting freedom of religion is false, because they are not advocating using government force — only persuasion — to prevent the construction.
But then came recent comments last week from one of the most vocal critics of the proposed construction, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich:
In a radio interview today, he said he wants the national government to step in and stop the developers from building the Islamic community center by whatever means necessary … And if that fails, he said, the state government should step in and use its considerable power to stymie the development. “The Attorney General of New York, Andrew Cuomo, could intervene because frankly he has the ability to slow it down for decades if he wants to.”
Government preventing the construction of a place of worship based primarily on the fact that a large group of citizens oppose that religion has no place under our system of government. It is becoming evident that several in the opposition to this construction are willing to use government force to prevent it. So much for that whole, “This is not about freedom of religion” thing.
Below is a recent CNN segment highlighting a fact largely lost in the “Ground Zero Mosque” debate: There have been Muslims worshiping in the existing building for a while.
So, what is the response from those opposing the construction of the new mosque? Kick them out? If not and the current situation is fine, how small does a mosque have to be for opponents to be OK with it near Ground Zero? Tricky little facts like this sort of make the heated rhetoric over the issue seem a little overblown.
This perhaps can be blamed partly on the prevalence of dubious chain emails with claims about political figures that are just too good to be true. But the real blame falls mainly on Americans all-too-willing to remain ignorant of facts.
The so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” is a rather good test of our committment to religious freedom. It seems that under different circumstances, say a group of Christians wanting to build a church on property they owned, there would be little to no outcry. But it’s not Christians wanting to build a house of worship near the site where the Twin Towers once stood, it’s Muslims. And that’s clearly the crux of the matter. Despite secondary appeals to saving the present building there as a historic landmark, the real issue boiling the blood of many Americans is that the site will be used to house a mosque.
And in some sense they are rightfully justified in noting the seemingly insensitive desire to place a shrine to Islam so close to the spot where Islamic terrorists killed around 3,000 innocent Americans. The unsettling nature of it is evident.
But the crux of the issue is whether those opposing the mosque believe they should oppose it through protests or through government action. It’s clear that many opponents are pursuing the legal route.
[picapp align=”left” wrap=”true” link=”term=ground+zero+mosque&iid=8913490″ src=”http://view1.picapp.com/pictures.photo/image/8913490/proposed-mosque-near/proposed-mosque-near.jpg?size=500&imageId=8913490″ width=”234″ height=”156″ /]The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), a conservative legal group connected with the Rev. Pat Robertson, has sought court action, basing its objections at least nominally on the process used to deny the site landmark status. But one can’t deny that behind these objections is a specific aversion to the creation of a large Muslim place of worship just blocks away from the 9/11 site. The rhetoric on cable news and talk radio is abuzz with anger over the plan to build a mosque — not the idea that the present building on the site should be preserved as some sort of landmark.
In a recent opinion piece on Slate, Christopher Hitchens came out in favor of France’s moves to ban the wearing of veils and the burqa by Muslim women in public places. Hitchens is a well-known and vocal atheist, recently writing God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything,so his aversion to the public display of religion is not surprising. What is confusing, though, is the nature of his argument for banning the religious garb.
Hitchens argues that the burqa ban will do society and Muslim women a favor. He argues that members of a society have the “right” to see each others’ faces, so banning the veiling of faces would aid in this. He also argues essentially that no Muslim woman would voluntarily wear a veil or burqa, so banning them would be beneficial to the women.
[picapp align=”left” wrap=”true” link=”term=burqa+french&iid=7718370″ src=”e/2/c/7/Najat_and_Siham_2a38.JPG?adImageId=12996291&imageId=7718370″ width=”234″ height=”156″ /]In doing this, he misuses the term “right” while simultaneously taking the right to religious expression away from women. As an atheist, Hitchens doesn’t believe in unalienable rights from God. Those who don’t believe in unalienable rights are prone to place other more utilitarian values like equality, fraternity and secularism — values often touted in French society — ahead of individual freedom. The good of society is prioritized over the rights of the individual. It is, in his view, better for society that women go unveiled regardless of the actual desire of women.
The recent refocus on the immigration issue here in the United States displays how segments in our society view newcomers and their place in our society. France, likewise, has been dealing with issues of immigration. Whereas the influx of Mexican immigrants has concerned Americans, the French have been dealing with the influx of various Muslim groups for quite a while now. Lately, the French have been concerned with the public religious practices of the Muslim subculture, which seem to threaten the country’s persistent emphasis on secularism and egalitarianism.
At issue is competing values of liberty and equality. The Muslims wearing the religious symbols banned in public schools in the country several years ago and those wearing the veils that may be soon be banned if French President Sarkozy has his way see such religious garb as an expression of their individual religious liberty. Those French opposed to that expression view the garb as symbolic of a Muslim counter-culture hostile to equality for women.
[picapp align=”left” wrap=”true” link=”term=france+muslims&iid=3620536″ src=”2/1/b/2/Muslims_Rally_Against_e566.jpg?adImageId=12692764&imageId=3620536″ width=”250″ height=”152″ /]The French reaction to this supposed societal dilemma exemplifies the focus their society has had on equality. Should the same issue become prominent in the U.S., one would imagine that the liberty of the Muslim women would win out. Individual religious expression in this country has more often than not trumped any societal claims to forced equality.