Memo to American Public: Rights not determined at the ballot

Rights are not subject to popular vote or public opinion. I don’t understand why this concept is so difficult for so many Americans to understand. The majority does not get to infringe on the constitutional rights of the minority just because they wield the might of numbers.

This summer has brought two topics to the forefront of American culture—gay marriage and religious freedom. Seemingly unrelated topics until you consider the societal structure of the debate. We have civil marriage in this country. Moral objections of some private citizens—not even an overwhelming majority—should not legislate the discrimination of some 10% of our population.

Similarly, the use of privately owned land in accordance with city ordinances and state law should not be dictated by the outraged bigots taking to the streets over some perceived indignation for desecrating the memory of their loved ones.

I don’t even remember when I first heard about the controversy surrounding the mosque being built in downtown Manhattan. I refuse to call it the ground zero mosque after becoming more familiar with the facts surrounding the situation. It’s not at ground zero, but two blocks away. It is not visible from ground zero due to the height of buildings in between the two sites. It is on a side street, away from main thoroughfares to the original TwinTowers. It is destined to be a community center, analogous to a JCC—with room for prayer space, but also educational wings, a fitness center, and craft rooms.

It intends to nurture the American Islam that the world needs so desperately right now. One that sees no conflict between democracy and al-din. One that educates their women. One that encourages adoption of religious customs according to a person’s personal conscience. One that believes in the power of dialogue to resolve conflicts. One that defends the religious tolerance and plurality that makes up the fabric of American life.

Over the weekend, President Obama defended the group’s constitutional right to build the Islamic center. And he is already receiving critiques from the GOP who plan to use the statement to its advantage in the midterm elections. How un-American could you be? Where is the outrage over the blind hatred displayed in Tennessee this summer? Where is the outrage over government-mandated discrimination? Where is the outrage in denying Constitutional rights to American citizens?

Religion has thrived in America precisely because of the separation between church and state that maintains a religious free market. You may not like Islam, but you do not have the right to legislate that preference. I would donate to the construction efforts if I could locate such a fund.

Then all that has divided us will merge

And then compassion will be wedded to power

And then softness will come to a world that is harsh and unkind

And then both men and women will be gentle

And then both women and men will be strong

And then no person will be subject to another’s will

And then all will be rich and free and varied

And then the greed of some will give way to the needs of many

And then all will share equally in the earth’s abundance

And then all will care for the sick and the weak and the old

And then all will nourish the young

And then all will cherish life’s creatures

And then all will live in harmony with each other and with the earth

And everywhere will be called Eden, once again

–Judy Chicago

1 thought on “Memo to American Public: Rights not determined at the ballot

  1. The whole controversy of Park51 (the current identifcation of the project…because it ain’t a mosque!) is extremely frustrating. There’s even GOP candidates using it as a springboard to declare that Muslims don’t get freedom of religion because they say Islam is not a ‘real’ religion–just a cult.

    It’s amazing that people can seriously say stuff like this out loud with a straight face.

    And don’t even get me started on the ADL’s huge blunder over this.

    *face palm*

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