Sunday, August 22, 2010

Random Thoughts on President Obama's Mosque Moment

I have a feeling of déjà vu all over again. President Obama jumped into an altercation a year ago on July 16, 2009 between Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., an African American, and Sergeant Jim Crowley, a white Cambridge police officer, by taking the professor’s side without learning the facts. He stated the Cambridge police “acted stupidly.’ He later called it a learning moment, but apparently learnt little from it. The President’s biases are too deep. The American people sided with the officer.

The American people do not believe a mosque or Muslim Community Center should be established within 2 blocks of Ground Zero. Actually the building, the Burlington Coat Factory, was struck by pieces from one of planes. That makes it part of Ground Zero. Let me rephrase the statement. The American public does not want a mosque built at Ground Zero.

President Obama had wisely stayed out of the dispute, stating it was a local matter for New York.

But then on Friday the 13th at a Ramadan dinner at the White House he endorsed the mosque:
“Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country…. That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in Lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances…..”

The next day, 800 miles away in Florida, he said he didn’t say what he said: “I was not commenting, and I will not comment, on the wisdom of making the decision to put a mosque” near Ground Zero. He must think the American people are stupid because his plain words the night before certainly sounded like a Presidential imprimatur to the Ground Zero Mosque.

His Saturday remarks continued: “I was commenting specifically on the right that people have that dates back to our founding. That’s what our country is about.”

He’s also wrong both legally and historically.

As a Constitutional Law Professor, President Obama must know that the First Amendment, including Freedom of Religion, did not initially apply to the states. It was adopted, along with the other 9 amendments in the Bill of Rights, as a restraint on the new federal government. Only after the post- Civil War adoption of the 14th Amendment did the Supreme Court progressively apply most of the Bill of Rights to the states.

As a sidebar, an interesting vignette on the First Amendment and the Mosque comes from Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. She wants an investigation of the opponents of the Mosque.

The Pilgrims and Puritans fled England seeking religious freedom, but that did not mean they wished to extend freedom of religion to others. Thus, Roger Williams had to flee to Rhode Island to seek freedom of religion.

The main problem is the premise that this dispute involves an issue of local New York City land use planning.

The irony is that easterners, especially New Yorkers, have no difficulty telling westerners, especially in the Rockies and the Southwest, how they can use, or often not use their land. They view the resources and beauty of the West as a national asset.

The famous eastern historian, Bernard DeVoto, once wrote a letter to the editor of the Denver Post: “You are certainly right when you say ‘us natives’ can do what you like with your scenery. But the national parks and monuments happen not to be your scenery. They are our scenery. They do not belong to Colorado or the West. They belong to the people of the United States, including the miserable unfortunates who have to live east of the Allegheny hillocks.”

The people of America view Ground Zero just as much a national memorial as the Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor. A Shinto Shrine by the Arizona would be as inappropriate as a Islam Mosque by Ground Zero.

A secondary issue is that many communities are now using their zoning powers to restrict churches. In other words, freedom of religion does not guarantee the right to put a church, temple, mosque, synagogue anywhere you wish on private property.

A third factor is if this proposed community center is intended to foster reconciliation and peace between Christians and Muslims, it's having the opposite effect.

The mosque debate will probably not be a defining issue in November; the economy will control. But the debate further defines President Obama in the eyes of the American people.

He is not one of us; he does not share our values. I don’t think he’s Muslim, or a closet Muslim. I simply believe he has inhaled in the 1980’s too much of the anti-Americanism of the 60’s in his higher education, church, companions, and political career. Remember that in his few years in the Senate, he consistently voted as the most liberal voting Senator, surpassing Ted Kennedy and other noted senate liberals.

He got a pass for 20 years worshiping with the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, but then step by step, drip by drip, bowing to King Abdullah on April 2, 2009 in Saudi Arabia, treating Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu with contempt, his failure to select a Church in D.C., the press conference in Turkey on April 6, 2009 in which he stated “We do not consider ourselves a Christian country,” and his appeasement of Iran, the American people realize he’s from a different value set – one they do not accept.

He doesn’t even directly address the issue of his religious views, letting his press office state that he worships daily. No wonder that up to a quarter of the American population believe President Obama is a Muslim.

America is a primarily Christian country, but one in which the American people are tolerant of non-Christian religions. That is part of America’s strength – a tolerance of diversity. That is breaking down in the Ground Zero debate. President
Obama did not facilitate tolerance in his remarks.

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