08/17/2010 10:17 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Majority Rules, Minority Rights

It's the August recess again, and everyone seems to have the crazies. We're cycling through pitched rhetorical battles so quickly, it's hard to keep track. In the past couple of weeks, we've gone from repealing the Fourteenth Amendment, to legalizing gay marriage, and from calling for Robert Gibbs' resignation to this latest controversy over a proposed Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero.

On the one hand, I have to admit I'm relieved we're talking about issues of some substance here, rather than the bogeymen death panels and birth certificates that dominated last summer's news cycles. These are issues that drive to the heart of what our Constitution is about, and who we are as Americans.

On the other hand, I'm disappointed in the trajectory of the discourse. Once again, subjects that merit measured, thoughtful discussion by grown up leaders instead become fodder for juvenile shouting matches, jingoistic tirades, and paranoid rants.

People, this is America. Our system is designed around a simple, yet powerful, principle: majority rules, minority rights. What that means, in our democratic system of government, is that the majority elects representatives to legislate on their behalf, and those representatives, presumably, will carry out the will of said majority. HOWEVER, no majority, no matter how sizable or vocal, may deny constitutionally guaranteed rights to a minority. Ever. Period. That's how it works.

The en vogue Republican position may be that the Fourteenth Amendment's provision granting birthright citizenship is flawed. So be it. That does not constitute grounds for carving out a minority group of citizens - children of undocumented immigrants - and denying them rights granted to all other citizens.

A sizable number of Americans might loathe the idea of gay marriage. It might even be an affront to everything they hold sacred (though that's a position, I admit, I have trouble understanding). Nevertheless, as Judge Walker stated, public opinion, as it relates to the guaranteed rights of all Americans, is irrelevant. Marriage has been defined by the Supreme Court as a fundamental right. The majority cannot, as was decided in the Prop 8 case, deprive a minority of that right. It's a basic question of fairness and equal protection of the law.

Which brings me to the mosque controversy. The First Amendment, and its provision for the free exercise of religion, was not written with religious majorities in mind. It was written specifically to protect religious minorities from persecution. You don't have to like the fact that an Islamic group plans to build a cultural center near Ground Zero. But it doesn't change the fact that the First Amendment guarantees that group the right to do so. In this case, government intervention would constitute the violation American law and principles, not the other way around.

Finally, to my liberal friends, with whom I'm mostly inclined to agree: Robert Gibbs had a point about the dissatisfaction of the Left. Yes, the Democrats have significant majorities in the House and in the Senate. And yes, the majority is entitled to champion legislation it feels is in the best interest of its constituents. But the minority - be it the Republicans, the Blue Dogs, or any other faction of American politics - retains rights.

To govern as if minority opinion is of no consequence, though temporarily satisfying - would further marginalize and radicalize those who already feel as if they have no meaningful political voice. That kind of environment, as we've seen in both the last Administration and the current one, leads only to bitterness, gridlock and rancor, and no one wins. Ultimately, it should be about what's good for all Americans, not simply one special interest group.