First amendments first
Those of you who bridle when this blog touches on political topics, avert your gaze—though this may be the last time for a while that I address First Amendment issues, because ignorance on the subject, some of it willful, is too vast for my frail power to educate.
I understand that a Dr. Laura Schlessinger, who operates a radio program that I don’t listen to, is leaving the air because people objected to her use of racial slurs and she wants to be free to exercise her First Amendment rights. I thought that that was what she was doing in the first place. She is free to say as many objectionable things as she likes, as often as she chooses. And people who find her offensive are free to criticize her, exercising their First Amendment rights.
Odd that this concept should prove to be so difficult to grasp. Odd that it should be so equally difficult for people to grasp the point about that proposed Islamic center in Manhattan.
It’s clear, or should be, that the First Amendment makes other people’s religious beliefs Not Your Business. In comments on this blog and elsewhere, people have catalogued the things they don’t like about Islam, but all of that is just irrelevant. If the people proposing the Islamic center in Manhattan conform to municipal zoning regulations and do not violate the criminal code, then they are beyond the reach of any governmental action, or, for that matter, public opinion. Your assent is not required.
Take an example: No doubt there are fellow Christians who reject Darwinian evolution and Copernican cosmology and, for all I know, Arabic numerals (invented by Muslims, you know). I deplore these beliefs and fear that these people are not fitting their children for participation in the world, but it is their right to think thus, and set up their churches and madrassas, and it would be tyranny to compel them otherwise. It is not my business, or yours, to police other people’s religious beliefs.
In yesterday’s post “Not stupid, just afraid,” I added a comment quoting Theodore Olson, a Republican, the former solicitor general in George W. Bush’s administration, and the husband of a victim of the September 11 attacks. I repeat it here:
"Well, it may not make me popular with some people, but I think probably the president was right about this. I do believe that people of all religions have a right to build edifices, or structures, or places of religious worship or study, where the community allows them to do it under zoning laws and that sort of thing, and that we don't want to turn an act of hate against us by extremists into an act of intolerance for people of religious faith. And I don't think it should be a political issue. It shouldn't be a Republican or Democratic issue, either. I believe Governor Christie from New Jersey said it well — that this should not be in that political, partisan marketplace."
It’s amusing to see how people switch sides. On questions about the Second Amendment, liberals veer into the strict-construction, original-intent camp, because in 1787 the right to bear arms was clearly linked to participation in a civilian militia. The Framers, having read their Roman history, were leery of standing armies and in fact virtually dissolved the army after the Revolution.
On the question of the Islamic center in Manhattan, opponents are suddenly unable to understand what the plain intent of the First Amendment, to make the United States a secular polity in which government keeps its hands off religious belief and practice. As always, we see people reaching for the arguments that support their previously determined conclusions, without much regard for consistency of principle.