The news events leading up to today’s 9th anniversary of the attacks on 9/11 present Americans with an opportunity to renew our commitments toward respecting our Constitution, with particular emphasis on the First Amendment. Guaranteeing all Americans both freedom of speech and freedom of religion, the First Amendment to our Constitution represents the most basic foundation that defines us as a people. Those who would do us harm generally despise those freedoms that we cherish, and they themselves would be rendered powerless in their own societies if these same freedoms were not subject to oppression in their homelands.
The victims of 9/11 are not simply those whose lives were lost in the collapse of the twin towers of the World Trade Center, in the offices of the Pentagon, or in that lonely field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Although these innocent victims paid the ultimate price for our freedoms, every American was a victim of terror on that infamous day. Our lives have been forever changed; however, we must vigilantly maintain our dedication to the freedoms that define us and make us one.
When a crazed minister of a small congregation in Florida threatened to burn copies of the Holy Koran as part of an observation on this day, I found even his threats, let alone the actions themselves had they been carried out, to be totally abhorable. On the same token, as despicable as those actions would have been, I must respect the First Amendment rights that would allow those acts to be carried out. Part of the price of our freedom allows Pastor Terry Jones to burn the Koran, the Ku Klux Klan to burn a cross (on their own property), or neo-nazis to parade on Main Street. It is the exercise of my own freedom that allows me to speak out against any and all of those uncivil, yet legal, actions. Unfortunately, Pastor Jones aroused enough media attention to have caused irreparable harm to all of us, on an international stage where our freedoms are either misunderstood or despised.
For similar reasons, I must support the proposed construction of an Islamic community center within the so-called “shadow of Ground Zero”, standing in agreement with the voices of reason which include President Barack Obama and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Where is this so-called “shadow”? Those were tall towers. Does the shadow extend two blocks, over all of Manhattan, or all the way from coast to coast? As I have already explained, every American was a victim of 9/11. Let us not further victimize ourselves by seeking to undo our own freedoms. I truly believe that New York City is the greatest city on our planet today. In a large part, that greatness is based upon the city’s resiliance and cultural diversity. Any attempt to restrict the Constitutional rights of even a single citizen, let alone a group of citizens who share a common religious belief or culture, will do irreparable harm to us all. There are sad chapters in our national history, including both slavery and the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. Let us learn from, rather than repeat, those mistakes.
Now is not a time for disagreement, but a time for honest soul-searching. When all is said and done, our rights as Americans are only as strong as the rights of the weakest individual, regardless of whether that individual’s actions may be personally viewed as either right or wrong.