On a related note, there is this recent news item on Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer casting doubt on the extent to which the First Amendment protects the ability of people like the pastor in Florida to burn books. I may be blogging separately on that absurdity soon.
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.
I blogged on this issue a while back here.
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.
[picapp align=”left” wrap=”true” link=”term=mosque+zero&iid=9654707″ src=”http://view4.picapp.com/pictures.photo/image/9654707/protestors-oppose-building/protestors-oppose-building.jpg?size=500&imageId=9654707″ width=”234″ height=”163″ /]”Freedom of religion means the right of the individual to choose and to adhere to whichever religious beliefs he may prefer, to join with others in religious associations to express these beliefs, and to incur no civil disabilities because of his choice.”
— Joseph Blau
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.
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.
“Let the pulpit resound with the doctrine and sentiments of religious liberty. Let us hear of the dignity of man’s nature, and the noble rank he holds among the works of God. … Let it be known that…liberties are not the grants of princes and parliaments.”
— John Adams
A story from OneNewsNow recently reported that the Pacific Justice Institute is suing a California shopping mall for what it believes to be a violation of constitutional freedoms. The alledged violation is that a mall policy bans the following:
… anyone [from] ever sharing their faith or political views with anyone else in the shopping mall at any time if they did not know that person prior to entering the shopping mall.
The story also reported that the mall had rules banning individuals from “wearing any clothing that displays religious or political messages.”
The problem with this argument is that the First Amendment, coupled with the Fourteenth Amendment applying much of the Bill of Rights to the states, prohibits the federal and state governments from abridging political speech or prohibiting religious freedom. It says nothing of private individuals or mall owners who have their own ground rules for individuals wishing to enter their property.
Americans have every right to express their political or religious views, but we don’t have a right to demand others allow us on their property to do so. This principle also applies to other freedoms.
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.