President Obama's stern defense of a Muslim group's right to build a community center and a mosque near Ground Zero has brought more than the expected morning after cries of "insensitivity."
The President, embattled in the polls, is already being accused of pandering to the 1.2 billion Muslims in the world. Some critics go much further by reminding us that Obama is a closet Muslim who embodies the anti-Christ. (Numerous polls suggest these conspiracy theories are widespread in the hinterlands.)
One typical citizen, "Charles M." wrote into Yahoo News about the president's stand on the mosque, sniping: "We have an Islamic President who will not get a second term."
Charles is wrong about the President being a Muslim, but could be correct in thinking that Obama may forfeit a second term by taking a stand in favor of the Islamic community center.
Our last president had no formal legal training in constitutional law, which helps explain how he was so easily manipulated by Dick Cheney et al into running roughshod over the America's most sacred laws.
Personally, I'd rather have a president who understands the Bill of Rights -- even if for only one term -- than one who can be convinced that the document can be ignored whenever it is politically or militarily expedient.
Most Americans take the individual protections that the Founders inscribed in the Constitution for granted. In a new poll, CNN asked Americans, "As you may know, a group of Muslims in the U.S. plan to build a mosque two blocks from the site in New York City where the World Trade Center used to stand. Do you favor or oppose this?"
The question -- steeped in subliminal messages -- also ignores the real issue at hand.
Not surprisingly, nearly four in five respondents told CNN that they "opposed" the mosque, (which is better described as a multi-story community center with a mosque on one floor.)
Americans are not required to study First Amendment law, but it would be nice if news organizations took the time to remind them from time to time within the context of such a debate as to why the Founders thought it wise to include the free exercise of religion, the freedom of speech and the freedom of the press in a single amendment that grants these to us all as "inalienable rights."
These are the greatest bulwarks of liberty and they embody the ideal of "American freedom" which has permitted our nation to survive and prosper. Only fools and despots look askance at these rights.
President Obama was certainly all-too-aware that the predominantly Muslim audience at the White House Friday night was sitting on the edge of their seats anxious to listen to his take on the mosque near Ground Zero.
He reminded them carefully that he was also speaking as a "citizen" under the law.
As I discovered while researching a book about the "battle of ideas" in the Islamic world, there remains an unfortunate and irrefutable perception that Americans only pay lip service to their own ideals of freedom. Like most foreigners I've run into abroad, Muslims still admire us for our idealism, but they openly wonder what we stand for anymore.
The last administration's irrational invasion of Iraq -- a country that harbored no al Qaeda fighters in early 2003 -- and its bludgeoning of the Geneva Conventions fueled wild conspiracy theories across the Islamic world that the U.S. was really just out to get Muslims.
Why else would George W. Bush use the word "crusade" to describe America's war? Why did (does) the U.S. government support authoritarian regimes in the Middle East that flout the human rights that Americans claim they hold dear?
Obama -- say what you will about his domestic policy or his doubling down in Afghanistan -- at least knows a bit about the U.S. Constitution. First and foremost, he was addressing the freedoms in that document Friday night, not an audience of Muslims.
America's sacrosanct freedom to exercise religion also -- and always -- sends a clarion message abroad. As John Quincy Adams said nearly two centuries ago, America's "glory is not dominion, but liberty. Her march is the march of the mind. She has a spear and a shield: but the motto upon her shield is, Freedom, Independence, Peace."
Many American Christians and Jews who cry out about the "insensitivity" of the mosque in southern Manhattan near the cite of the former World Trade Center, ignore that the American "state" is separate from religion for good reason. She (America) is required to remain blind to their religious concerns in this case. Indeed, critics of the President's "sensitivity" should ask themselves what document is more "sensitive" to the rights of the individual than is our own Bill of Rights, which was adopted in 1791?
America's Founders made it fairly simple for Americans to stand for good in the world by believing in their own ideals at home. But for that to happen, they also have to make an effort to understand their inherent freedoms -- the ones that are at least as sacred as the bones and blood at Ground Zero.