I can’t figure out if the last two weeks have revealed a massive misunderstanding of the First Amendment on the part of the American public, or if it has revealed a massive selfishness regarding it. The First Amendment is not a one-way street.
Let’s start with Dr. Laura Schlessenger.
Dr. Laura, as most of you know by now, is quitting her radio program. She is doing so to “regain [her] First Amendment rights.” Last week Dr. Laura, host of a popular talk show where she is allowed to spout her opinions every day, said the word “nigger” 11 times, claimed that black people voted for Obama because he was black, and told a caller not to “NAACP me.” People weren’t happy about this tirade and because we live in the United States they used their First Amendment rights to express that they didn’t like what Dr. Laura said. Apparently, though, by expressing an opinion about the content of her program you are stepping all over Dr. Laura’s First Amendment rights. Poor, voiceless Dr. Laura. She isn’t suffering from a misunderstanding of the First Amendment, she is suffering from an overwhelming sense of privilege.
If you are feeling sorry for Dr. Laura, please don’t, because she isn’t really going anywhere. Once her contract is up I suspect we’ll be hearing plenty from the good doctor as she writes books, tours the lucrative talking head circuit, and is called upon as an expert by the cable networks.
Dr. Laura, one of the great things about this country is that when we disagree with something someone says, we get to say so.
The other big First Amendment issue over the last two weeks is the debate surrounding the mosque/Islamic community center that might be built two blocks away from the Ground Zero site in New York City. This is an outrageous debate that should leave any citizen of this country that believes in the First Amendment lowering their heads in shame. The First Amendment protects the freedom of religion. Our founding fathers and mothers risked their lives crossing the Atlantic Ocean so they could have the freedom to practice their religion of choice. We’ve fought wars to defend the principle of First Amendment rights.
The individuals wishing to build the Islamic Community Center have passed all of the required legal hurdles in New York City. They have received endorsements from their neighbors, from local community groups, and from leaders of neighboring religious organizations. To attempt to block and politicize the right to build this community center due to an extreme minority loosely affiliated with their religion bringing down the World Trade Center is hypocritical. Those men were cowards who violated every tenet of Islam.
The worst part about it is that the argument against the center is a complete distortion that most of the media have bought hook, line, and sinker. There is already a mosque four blocks from the World Trade Center site. There is a space for Muslims to worship inside the Pentagon at the location where it was hit on September 11. The community center is more than two blocks from the site and you won’t even be able to see it from the street. Muslims died on September 11. Muslims died rescuing people. Muslims died as passengers in the planes that were brought to the ground. Muslims have served our country while fighting al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan.
We are better than this. Opposing the center makes us appear to the rest of the world as petty and small. It doesn’t matter if it hurts your feelings that Muslims want to build a community center near Ground Zero because their right to do so is protected by the Constitution.
If holding up a handful of evildoers as the representatives of an entire religion is to be the new standard then it needs to be applied evenly and equally. It should be assumed that until every Catholic priest that has ever terrorized and violated the innocence of a child is purged from the clergy and rightfully brought before the law no more churches can be built within two blocks of where children live.
The First Amendment is a two-way street. You don’t get to decide who gets to criticize you or who gets to practice their religion and who doesn’t.
This article originally appeared at dane101.com on August 19, 2010.