Thursday, August 19, 2010

Fear and Intolerance

Where have all the constitutional purists gone?! You know the ones I mean. The one's who have nearly lifted the United States Constitution to the level of scripture. Who support the idea that interpretation of this great democratic document must be according to its 'original intent'. The one who hold it inviolate. Who decry change and variance (while ignoring the meaning of the word 'amendment'). You know, those folk.

It turns out that most of them have grown silent in the wake of recent calls for its violation. All last summer, in protests against health care, stimulus, bank bailouts and virtually anything else proposed by the Obama administration it was this great, magnificent treasure that was being trampled over, by this...this...this...'President'. It was the Constitution that he was making a shambles of and it was to its immutable nature that appeal was made to show that this...this...'President' was acting like a 'socialist' or worse. How dare he take action which would 'change' this cherished Constitution!

Of course, it appears that the Constitution is inviolate by convenience. Take for instance recent calls to tamper with the Constitution by seeking to eliminate the clause that establishes 'birth citizenship'. The first section of the Amendment says,

"All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

Among other things, this was the Amendment and the clause established to give citizenship to newly freed slaves, more specifically those born in this country. But long before this Amendment, ratified in 1868, was fully applied to former slaves, the Supreme Court interpreted it to give corporations the same rights as actual persons. Those rights have culminated in the recent Supreme Court ruling which gives corporations the same rights as individuals have to contribute to political campaigns.



Yet when it comes to actual human beings, Senator Lindsey Graham has said that the birth citizenship clause of the constitution is a mistake. Not because corporations are reproducing, but because human beings are! There is a 'conspiracy', evidently, foreigners come to the United States to have babies who by virtue of their birth become U. S. citizens. Now, I don't say that this doesn't happen. But it is a call for a change in the revered Constitution that is directly aimed at a particular people. To put it another way: its interesting that this was never a problem with Irish, English, Italian or Swiss immigrants. This is a call for a change in this country's most 'sacred' document because of undocumented Hispanic immigration. Of course, it will impact other immigrants here illegally. But that isn't the issue. It's being proposed because of one groups national origin. If the Constitution is as regarded as we say, isn't it a misuse of our reverence to point proposals for change at a particular people?

And, of course there are those who have hopped on the Graham bandwagon. Fear, desperation, bigotry and ignorance, flourish during hard times. A people who were never a threat before our country was drilled in fear and drowned in red ink, are now a source of suspicion and attempts at state usurpation of federal authority of immigration law. No one is asking - and of course no one is telling - how long this will take to change this clause in the Constitution, what the ramifications are, what the potentials for abuse are. The very proposal is a cheap and cowardly way of avoiding what takes real political courage: proposing real, sane and enforceable immigration reform. It's much easier to play into the bigotry and fear always rampant during tough times.

And then there's 'the Mosque'. So close to Ground Zero, that those of us who have never been to New York have our hackles raised by the very idea that these 'foreigners' would dare construct a Islamic place of worship on the site where America's greatest tragedy has taken place.

Except these are not 'foreigners' proposing this 'mosque'. And its actually a community center. Oh, and its not on Ground Zero, its two blocks away.

Yet, America is so psychically scarred, that it cannot consider someone of the Muslim faith 'American'. And no religion other than Christianity can possibly be valid. After all, those who attacked us on 9/11 did so in the name of this religion. And so, this religion has got to be evil. After all, no less great a theologian and scholar than Newt Gingrich, compares this to building a monument to Nazism next to the Holocaust museum.

**sigh**

Have we forgotten that for centuries, some of the most vile terrorism that took place in this country took place in the name of and in some cases sanctioned if not abetted by American Christians? What has prevailed is the understanding that these were not 'Christian' acts. And that real Christians stood up and declared it to be antithetical to the faith.

And then there's the Constitution.

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech..."


One of the founding principles upon which this country was established was that of freedom of religious expression. The idea that this would be a country in which those who worship God, can worship Him free from interference, by government. That right has been respected not only by government (Congress), but by every branch of government. The free exercise of religion, however, cannot be free if it only applies to Christians.

Fortunately, there have actually been plenty of politicians and a good number of other Americans who understand that if we interfere with the right of Muslims to build this mosque, or this extension of their mosque in this place, then we are on the slippery slope of denying this freedom to others - even Christians with whom we disagree.

As long as they adhere to the local laws governing this construction, these Americans have every right to build this place of worship and fellowship. In fact I believe that the construction of this Muslim center, honors the very freedoms for which 3500 people died on that awful day in 2001.

This is no threat to America or to our way of life. This is no threat to Christianity. If our faith is as enduring and as resilient as it has shown itself to be throughout the century, it needs no antiseptic vacuum in which to thrive and flourish. But equally as important, if American democracy is what we say it is, then it is not worthy of the xenophobia and paranoia we see exhibited today.

This Constitution in which we have such legitimate pride, protects us from making policy based on fear and prejudice. Ultimately, we amend it to clarify and expand the freedoms we have as citizens, its never been a fence to keep people out. It's always been an invitation to enter into full participation in the grandest experiment in the history of mankind. Only we can make sure that it remains just that.

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