O judgment! thou art fled to brutish beasts, And men have lost their reason.–William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar
In the two decades before the Civil War, America was an ugly place. The winds of war stirred across prairies and plantations. The Industrial Revolution, abolitionism, waves of poor immigrants from Europe and a rising intolerance began to threaten the young nation from within, even as enemies, old and new, threatened her from without. Nowhere was it uglier than in the Utah Territories, where the followers of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (The Mormons) had grown increasingly paranoid from the attacks on them by evangelical Christians and a Republican Party itching to shoot somebody. The controversy eventually resulted in several massacres of non-Mormon settlers by Mormon militia and the invasion of Utah by the United States Army under the command of Winfield Scott. “The Utah War” was finally settled by treaty, shortly before the Civil War began, but the fact that a minority religion could be viewed as an an enemy of the state forever tarnished the sanctity of the First Amendment’s protection of religious liberty.
Harry Reid should know this. He’s a Mormon. He should be one of the foremost defenders of the right of Americans to practice their faith according to their conscience. But instead, he has chosen his place among the enemies of the Constitution and the very foundation of the Empire of Liberty that it was supposed to establish. And he did it for the reason that most politicians cave on basic principles: political expediency. He’s in a tight race for re-election against one of the most extreme examples of intolerance and bigotry in the political sphere. He decided that, instead of standing up the truth, he would stand up for a lie. The lie is that, while Muslims may have the right to build a mosque in lower Manhattan, they shouldn’t, because it offends him. Or more truthfully, it offends the majority of Americans who are willing to trade away the Bill of Rights because they are afraid.
I can’t even believe that I have to point out something so basic to America as the right to worship unmolested by government. But there is something in the air these days in America. Something so evil and hateful and dangerous that, left unchecked, it will accomplish what Al Qaeda and its acolytes could not: the end of the American experiment. That evil is the fear of other people who are different than the majority; the hatred of people who worship God in different tongues. The dangerous idea that government should be able to tell a minority religion where it can pray, how it can worship, what it should believe.
The “Ground Zero Mosque” controversy is so hideously stupid that it is nearly impossible to find appropriate words to describe it. And it is littered with disinformation, as propaganda always is. There are already two other mosques in South Manhattan, but they have outgrown their present spaces and need a new space to worship. They sought proper zoning, paid for their property and developed their plans. They played by the rules. They were given the green light by local officials to begin building. But then the evil clouds rolled in, with the shamans of hate doing their pagan rain dance below. The Palins, Gingriches, Hannitys and their fear-mongering bigotry was no surprise. The surprise is that the majority of Americans could be so completely swayed by their rhetoric: “Of course they have a right to build, but they shouldn’t because it’s disrespectful.”
What’s disrespectful to America is that a government official would try to bully a religious group into compliance. What’s disrespectful to America is that a government official, especially one that is himself a member of a religious group once persecuted for its heterodoxy, should try to control men’s souls. What’s disrespectful to America is the trampling of the Constitution in an attempt win an election.
Full disclosure here: this is personal to me. While both of my parents were baptized Catholics, they strayed from the faith of their parents and converted to the minority religion of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Before their deaths, they returned to the “faith once delivered to the saints” but not before raising four children in a religious movement that disdained the flag as an idol, that refused to serve in the military, that viewed every other religion as inspired by the Devil himself. I know how it feels as someone’s spit runs slowly down your face because he doesn’t like your religion. I know what it’s like to bear the tyranny of the majority. I left the Witnesses twenty-five years ago, but I will defend to the death their right to practice their faith as they see fit. I will do the same for the Muslims of Manhattan or Mount Pleasant. I will defend the First Amendment with the Second if necessary, without a thought for my personal safety. I may have to, if the present situation endures.
I hope Sharron Angle trounces Harry Reid. It’s not that I agree with her–I loathe her bigotry and hatefulness. But Harry Reid’s treachery has rendered him unfit for public office. No matter which of them is elected, the tyranny of the majority will advance and the cause of human freedom will be diminished.
And as for the Muslim congregations of South Manhattan? Peace be upon them. May the God of Abraham honor them and grant them peace. May they stand firm against intolerance and hate. And may God save us all.