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Daniel Ruth

An inconvenient Constitution

We sure do love our cherished freedoms, our beloved rights, our rock-ribbed values — unless, of course, we actually have to defend them.

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And so even though it was a fairly fleeting comment, once again Gov. Charlie Crist offered up a compelling example of just how liberating it can be to shed the ideological strictures that come with being associated with the elitist junta of jodhpurs controlling the Republican Party these days.

The newly minted independent candidate for U.S. Senate said he agreed with President Barack Obama's view that building a mosque near the 9/11 ground zero site in New York was perfectly appropriate and in keeping with fundamental American principles protecting religious expression.

Crist could have taken the easy route and joined the chorus of political bloviating phonies decrying the very idea that a mosque might be built within blocks of ground zero. Many others, including Democrats such as U.S. Senate candidate Jeff Greene and gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink, jumped on the demagoguery bandwagon to oppose the notion of people practicing a faith so near the site of the worst act of terrorism in U.S. history. And nobody exploited the situation as brazenly as Republican gubernatorial candidate Rick Scott with his overheated rhetoric and quickie ad.

Instead, Crist sided not so much with Obama but with the U.S. Constitution, that oftentimes awkward, inconvenient, troublesome document that protects stuff like the rights of the people to pray, to speak, to assemble, to petition their government.

"I know there are sensitivities and I understand them," Crist said, adding however, "This is a place where you're supposed to be able to practice your religion without the government telling you you can't."

Now this may not have qualified as a profile in courage, but it certainly represents a declaration of political independence for Crist in taking an unpopular stand in the middle of a contentious campaign environment.

Does anyone seriously doubt had the mosque kerfuffle arisen six months ago, when Crist was still a Republican, that the governor in the midst of a nasty primary fight with former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio would have felt compelled to oppose Obama out of fear of flummoxing the checkbook of foie gras in command of the GOP?

Instead, Crist was free to — how revolutionary — do the proper thing in siding with the right of American citizens to worship.

It is always worth noting that the Constitution exists not to protect your right to stand on a street corner praising motherhood, apple pie and the flag but to protect unpopular, sometimes offensive and most certainly insensitive expressions, opinions and beliefs.

And it could certainly be argued the flap over the mosque has more to do with Islamaphobia than the more specific notion of building a mosque within blocks of ground zero. Indulge an idle question. Had the 9/11 attacks, resulting the murders of 3,000 innocent victims (including Muslims), been perpetrated by a gang of deranged Methodists, would there still be the same cacophony of faux outrage over plans to build a Methodist church within blocks of the World Trade Center site?

It is more than fair to regard that hole in the ground in lower Manhattan as "hallowed ground." It is indeed a memorial to incredible loss of life and the unbounded courage of the first responders who paid the ultimate price that horrific day.

But the same people who are so discombobulated over the idea Muslims might worship steps from ground zero seem blithely indifferent to the presence of strip clubs, lingerie modeling shops and off-track betting parlors which populate the area within the same distance of the proposed mosque near this "hallowed ground."

You want offensive? I have visited ground zero on many occasions and I have always been struck — and offended — by the sleazy street vendors hawking 9/11 "souvenirs" — everything from 9/11 key chains, to 9/11 snow globes, to 9/11 geegaws picturing Osama bin Laden. How offensive is the notion that the murder of 3,000 people has become a business opportunity for a bunch of tawdry vultures? And not a peep of protest. But at least they aren't praying to Allah.

We don't do "hallowed ground" very well in this country.

Offensive? Graves have been desecrated in Arlington National Cemetery. There is an effort to build casinos on the edge of the Gettysburg Battlefield. Our national parks system has been allowed to deteriorate. And since 9/11, reconstruction of the "hallowed ground" location has been bogged down by petty interests.

It took nine years to build the Acropolis in Athens — in 438 B.C. And yet nine years after 9/11 the World Trade Center site is still mostly an open gap in the Manhattan landscape.

In the short term, it might be argued a faith that has an estimated 1.5 billion adherents is under attack for purely craven political gain. But the real victim here is the very Constitution all these pandering pols are supposed to be defending.

How offensive is that?

An inconvenient Constitution 08/16/10 [Last modified: Monday, August 16, 2010 7:50pm]

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