How do you stop someone from doing something you admit they are entitled to do? What if you tell them to stop because their actions hurt your feelings? Even if their actions are manifestations of the freedoms this country affords, should they stop if your feelings may be compromised? Such is the debate in which the lower Manhattan Islamic Center finds itself. Commentators have stirred this debate that pits freedoms versus feelings, and we must decide as a nation whether we make decisions based on freedoms or feelings.
Our history tells us that the United States was founded on the principle of freedom. Whether it is freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly, or freedom of press, people around the world flock to this country because of the liberties and freedoms afforded to its people. The American society historically forms opinions based on the protection of these freedoms.
But this is changing.
Now, people form opinions based on protecting their feelings. According to a new Quinnipiac University Polling Institute survey, 80% of likely voters in New York think a Muslim group has the right and freedom to build an Islamic Center near Ground Zero. Yet, 57% say building the center near Ground Zero is wrong because it offends the feelings of too many Americans who see it as hallowed grounds. Going further, 67% argued the decent thing for project organizers to do is to protect the feelings of the American people by voluntarily agreeing to build the Islamic Center somewhere else.
Feelings over freedoms.
What fascinates me is the dichotomy between this case and a similar case not long ago in which the roles were reversed. Those in favor of drawing cartoons of Prophet Muhammad argue that the freedom of speech protects such an act. Muslims, on the other hand, argued that although the freedom of speech and expression permits cartoonists to draw a picture of Muhammad, the decent thing would be to protect the feelings of the Muslim people by agreeing not to do it. That argument, however, was not widely accepted, as proponents of freedom of speech drowned-out the voices asking for consideration of people's feelings.
Freedoms over feelings.
So what will it be America? Do we protect our feelings or our freedoms? Let's choose one and be consistent.