I have avoided this issue thus far because I feel a lot like this guy – or this guy – or perhaps like William Shakespeare – “It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.“ I see this as little more than a excuse by partisans and bloggers on both the right and left to flog their favorite bogeymen in the hope of securing a minor political advantage. The significance of this story is just not worth the ink and electrons spilled on it.
But, that has not stopped anyone else, so let me make my position on this question perfectly clear – This blogger stands firmly with Michael Bloomberg, Grover Norquist, Chris Christie, Joe Scarborough, Michael Gerson and Barack Obama (Friday, 8/13/10 version) in support or indifference to the location of the Cordoba project mosque – and stands in opposition to Harry Reid, Howard Dean and Barack Obama (Saturday 8/14/10 version) who do not explicitly support the location of the Cordoba project mosque.
In America, in matters of religious tolerance, there should be no close calls, no qualification of primary principles, and the first amendment should not be location dependent. I am not sympathetic to the distinction of “rights” vs. right which strikes me as a Clinton-esque parsing for those looking to rationalize forcing the Cordoba Project to move the mosque/cultural center.
I”m going to make this easy on myself and crib extensively from a previous post invoking the views of a founding father whose words are as relevant now as they were 230 years ago.
Thomas Jefferson writing in the third person, in a letter to Dr. Jacob De La Motta on the occasion of the 1820 dedication of a synagogue in Savannah, Georgia:
.“Th. Jefferson returns his thanks to Dr. De La Motta for the eloquent discourse on the Consecration of the Synagogue of Savannah, which he has been so kind as to send him. It excites in him the gratifying reflection that his country has been the first to prove to the world two truths, the most salutary to human society, that man can govern himself, and that religious freedom is the most effectual anodyne against religious dissension: the maxim of civil government being reversed in that of religion, where its true form is “divided we stand, united, we fall.” He is happy in the restoration of the Jews, particularly, to their social rights, and hopes they will be seen taking their seats on the benches of science as preparatory to their doing the same at the board of government. He salutes Dr. De La Motta with sentiments of great respect.”
His short letter speaks to both the intent and core convictions of an architect of our country and constitution. Consider the pride and importance that Jefferson invests in the principle of religious freedom and diversity in this letter. He finds it “gratifying” that our country was the “first to prove to the world” the “two truths” that are the most beneficial to human society – “that man can govern himself”, and absolute “religious freedom” is the only answer to “religious dissension”.
Andrew Sullivan reminds us that Islam was explicitly included in Jefferson’s message of tolerance. He quotes from Jefferson’s autobiography where Jefferson expands on the intent of the Virginia Statute For Religious Freedom – “Jefferson On The Toleration Of Islam”:
Where the preamble declares that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed, by inserting the word ‘Jesus Christ,’ so that it should read ‘a departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion.’ The insertion was rejected by a great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and infidel of every denomination.”
Finally in a letter to Moredcai Manuel Noah, Jefferson notes that while protection of religious freedom under the law is a necessary condition, it is not sufficient to ensure tolerance and the fair and equitable treatment of all religious belief.
“Our laws have applied the only antidote to this vice, protecting our religious, as they do our civil rights, by putting all on an equal footing. But more remains to be done, for although we are free by the law, we are not so in practice. Public opinion erects itself into an inquisition, and exercises its office with as much fanaticism as fans the flames of an Auto-da-fé. The prejudice still scowling on your section of our religion altho’ the elder one, cannot be unfelt by ourselves. It is to be hoped that individual dispositions will at length mould themselves to the model of the law, and consider the moral basis, on which all our religions rest…”
The work of religious tolerance was incomplete in the time of Jefferson, and remains incomplete today. Religious intolerance is an issue that every generation of Americans must face anew. As Americans of good will fought for the principle of religious freedom at the beginning of the American experiment, it falls to Americans of good will in each generation, of every religion, race and creed, to ensure that in their own time their generation remembers and understands that – as regards religion – “divided we stand.”
To wrap this up I will invoke a poet/philosopher of our own time – Mojo Nixon. While these lyrics were written in response to another civil libertarian challenge, I don’t think Mojo would mind my applying them here…
“You know – Thomas Jefferson
Is gonna be mighty pissed
When he finds out about this,
I say – Come back from the dead Tom,
Sock ‘em in the head.” – Mojo
Cross-posted from Divided We Stand United We Fall
UPDATED & EDITED: I added one word to the body of the post. You find it.