Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

It was one of the first bits of legalese that was ever crammed into my brain during some civics class in junior high. The First Amendment to the United States Constitution is something people love to hold dearly, defend loudly (especially when they’ve recently been caught red-handed after saying or doing something in an incredibly and often publicly heinous manner.)  It is a right guaranteed by law that no one can take away.

But so many political factions want to claim the high ground when it comes the First Amendment, that for whatever reason they are more American than others, more “patriotic” than others and their rights matter more than others.

The First Amendment did not have a majority rule clause to it where one groups needs and rights supersede the rights of those, well, who are carbon copy white Christian duplicates of them.

Enter the New York Ground Zero debate. We don’t need to rehash September 11, 2001. Unless you have been living under a very large rock, I think most of the world knows what happens. It was my morning off. I got a phone call from one of my best friends telling me to turn on the TV.  I mowed the lawn later that day, and yes, did notice that the sky was completely devoid of jet vapor trails. It’s why I had a full blown panic attack five weeks later when I was trying to get on a plane. It’s why the US is currently at war.

And now an Imam wants to build an Islamic Center a few blocks away from Ground Zero and we have quite the uproar. Those groups who hold the First Amendment close to the proverbial breast are up in arms complete with some very hyperbolic arguments.

Of course there’s the famous word salad Twitter post from Sarah Palin, Ground Zero Mosque supporters: doesn’t it stab you in the heart, as it does ours throughout the heartland? Peaceful Muslims, pls refudiate. (Original post has been deleted because someone discovered that refudiate is not a verb apparently.)  Actually, if you read Palin’s Twitter account it is filled with a lot of hyperbole when it comes to the planned Islamic Center.

But the criticism isn’t something merely coming from the political right. Sen. Harry Reid has jumped on the bandwagon of the First Amendment applies to everyone, except when we don’t want it to apply to everyone. His spokesman Jim Manley has said, The First Amendment protects freedom of religion. Senator Reid respects that but thinks that the mosque should be built someplace else.

Funny how those making the biggest stink about this are pandering for your vote in November.

The arguments seem to be a variation on a theme: it’s insensitive, it’s a slap in the face to the victims and survivors, it’s an insult to America, blah blah blah. But people realize that it wasn’t just Christians that perished in this catastrophe. Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists and atheists all died that day.

Take a look at the neighborhood around the World Trade Center site and St. Paul Chapel is a block away. A few blocks south is near World Trade Center 4 is St. Paul’s sister church Trinity Wall Street. Do the 1 million New York Muslims feel threatened by these Episcopal worship centers? Or what about St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church which is literally kitty corner to Ground Zero?

Why can’t there be a mosque or Islamic community center in that area? Every Muslim is not a follower of Osama bin Laden nor do they all agree with his policies of fear and violence.  England did not ban Roman Catholic churches near the numerous sites that the Irish Republican Army has bombed in London.  And I don’t think there has a ban on worship centers in the wake of the subway bombings.

Like him or hate him, even President Obama has weighed in. And it surprises me (actually, no it doesn’t surprise me. People’s unabashed hatred and intolerance has ceased to surprise me. Disappoint me, yes.  But surprise me? Unfortunately, not any more.) that people are willing to ignore that First Amendment that they cherish so dearly and bash him for defending it. For the record, the president didn’t say anything scandalous. He said the following:

As a citizen, and as president, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone 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. This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable.

But opponents say it is insensitive or offensive to be that close to hallowed ground. But what is too close? Two blocks? Ten? A half of a mile? The other side of Central Park? Brooklyn? There are 1 million Muslims in New York City. Are they all a slap in the face to the Offended? Where are they allowed to peacefully worship in pray? In hiding as second class citizens? In a prapproved Muslim ghetto?

It’s a pity humanity doesn’t learn from the past. Not to be completely hyperbolic, but when politicians start seeking out religious groups different from their own for scapegoating, persecution and discrimination, it leads to such blights on humanity that go by such dubious euphemisms as The Final Solution.

There are no caveats to Freedom of Religion. We are not a theocracy where one faction gets to decide where and how we worship. We are not a theocracy. There is no state-sanctioned religion that dictates these rules.

If people want get frothed up with moral indignation then why don’t they crack down on the drug dealing or gang activity in neighborhoods around Ground Zero. Why don’t they advocate for women who are victims of domestic violence or help the children who are abused or neglected in the surrounding neighborhoods. Crack down on sex crimes and human trafficking in the neighborhood.

But don’t crack down on people’s rights to faith however they may chose to worship. It creates a slippery slope where those in power can limit how any of us gather to worship. Do you want to be on the receiving end of such an edict?

Yeah, I didn’t think so.

Photo: the Blue Mosque in Istanbul.  Haven’t been there but the Mom and Dad have. According to them, it is as beautiful as it looks in print. The other one is a bumper sticker.

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