I saw a photo last week of an angry protester opposing the proposed mosque near Ground Zero holding a sign that read:
"You can build a mosque at Ground Zero when can I build a synagogue in Mecca."
It's simplistic, and it appeals to most Americans' basic sense of fairness, but ultimately it is a profoundly un-American statement.
If we contrast the verbiage on the sign against the values that are embedded in the Constitution, there is no other logical conclusion one can reach.
Building the proposed mosque near Ground Zero is the latest in a series of examples where individuals, who ought to know better, drape themselves in the American flag to advocate for un-American policies. They probably do know better, but the enticing political benefit will not allow them to pass on an opportunity, regardless of whether it encroaches on deeply held American values.
We recently had U.S. senators proposing to revise the 14th Amendment. We now have a group, among them former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, advocating that America ignore religious liberty.
I'm certain those in opposition would disagree with my characterization, but that is exactly what they're offering.
The most popular argument against building the mosque near Ground Zero is that it should be built at another location.
They offer the memories of 9/11 to suggest an insensitivity by those who propose building a mosque so close to Ground Zero, given that those who planned and carried out this tragedy professed belief in a certain strand of Islam.
This assumes, other than the malefactors, no Muslims died at Ground Zero. It further assumes, unlike its theological first cousins, Judaism and Christianity, Islam is monolithic in thought and deed.
Those opposed to building the mosque at Ground Zero use fear of Muslims and ignorance of the Constitution to justify use of a double standard.
What if Christianity was defined by the Dutch Reformed Church that supported Apartheid, Jim Jones' People's Temple that led to the death of more than 900 of its members in Guyana, or the Ku Klux Klan, which began as a "Christian" organization?
Ironically, if we were using similar criteria against Christians, many of those opposed to building the mosque near Ground Zero would be adamant in their support for religious liberty.
I refer to those who oppose building the mosque at Ground Zero as holding an un-American position because the First Amendment stands in their way, yet they still seek the path of the emotional short cut.
But in its elementary way, the protester's sign speaks to what makes America great.
I agree that one cannot build a synagogue in Mecca the way you can build a mosque near Ground Zero. It is also unlikely any other industrialized nation, no matter how progressive it claims, would elect an individual who represents no more than 12 percent of that country's population to be its president. But that's America.
When we peel back the layers, like so much of the hyperbole that makes its way into our 24-hour news cycle, this latest kerfuffle is merely another cheap political issue sprinkled with a twinge of racism. This tactic is as old as the republic.
We can never support or oppose something based on how we feel, if those feelings also intrude on our shared constitutional values.
As President Andrew Shepherd stated in the movie The American President:
"America isn't easy; America is advance citizenship. You gotta want it bad because it's going to put up a fight. It's going to say: 'you want free speech, let's see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who's standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.' "
When more of us can defend the First Amendment like Shepherd articulates, we will well be on our way to that more perfect union. Until then, we will probably be more content claiming to be American, succumbing to the anti-American rhetoric for cheap political gain, than engaging in the tough struggle of living out what that obligation truly means.
Byron Williams is an Oakland pastor and syndicated columnist. He is the author of Strip Mall Patriotism: Moral Reflections of the Iraq War. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his Web site byronspeaks.com