The issue of the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” has been greatly distressing. All manner of bigotry and nastiness has surfaced on the right, of course, but what I’ve found quite distressing is that leftists have been quiet on what seems to me to be a clear-cut issue of tolerance and liberty.
When Obama said that Muslims definitively have the right to build their community center on private property, my heart fluttered a little. I was immensely pleased and got a little bit of the “Yes We Can!” vibe again.
Then he backpedaled. He said he was not commenting on the “wisdom” of the Cordoba Center’s construction. My heart fell.
This issue should not even be a controversy. At all. This is the U.S., and one of the best, most admirable things that we’ve ever done is institutionalize freedom of religion. No one is compelled to belong to a state church or religion. No one is required to believe anything that the state tells them to. Citizens are free to assemble, discuss, and believe whatever they like. That is, really, quite profoundly incredible.
I’m an atheist- I don’t believe in any kind of god or gods, and that philosophical stance is immensely important to me. However, I think it would be massively deplorable if even atheism was enforced as a state religion. The state should be utterly neutral in these matters.
That neutrality is not exciting or sexy. It is not amazingly compelling. It is, really, massively boring to have one of the most powerful entities in the history of humankind (the U.S. government) not take stands on issues such as religion.
That unsexy boredom, though, allows for so much else to transpire. The U.S. is a stew of religions and philosophy, of mutually contradictory worldviews and outlooks. That pluralism is utterly fantastic. As fervently as I cling to my own philosophy, I would never, ever, want the state to enforce it. Not even my philosophy is worthy of a breach of state neutrality.
This is profoundly important, and I really do believe that having a government divorced from any religion whatsoever (even mine!) is very, very important to maintaining a civilization. The very idea that we should prefer one philosophy over another (on private property, no less!) is cause for distress.
I keep hoping that someone on the left will express this. I keep wishing that some Democrat will take a principled stand and inform America that religious liberty is one of the most fundamental pillars of our free state.
But, I have my doubts. Right now, I can’t identify any admirable leftists in government. I wish I could, but there’s no one.
That distresses me far more than anything Gingrich or Palin says.