Today Obama told reporters, "I was not commenting and I will not comment on the wisdom of making the decision to put a mosque there. I was commenting very specifically on the right people have that dates back to our founding."
That plays directly into the hands of opponents of Park51 who have claimed that they are not infringing on the Park51 backers' right to build by suggesting that they refrain from building in deference to the sensibilities of those who feel that the building would constitute an insult to 9/11 victims or a threat to the nation's security.
In his speech on Friday night, Obama countered this tendency not only by affirming New York Muslims' "right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in Lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances," but also by stressing the moral and communitarian right of Muslims to consider themselves an integral part of American society:
Like so many other immigrants, generations of Muslims came to forge their future here. They became farmers and merchants, worked in mills and factories. They helped lay the railroads. They helped to build America. They founded the first Islamic center in New York City in the 1890s. They built America’s first mosque on the prairie of North Dakota. And perhaps the oldest surviving mosque in America —- still in use today —- is in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.That more capacious statement of equal rights suggests that the formal legal equality we afford to all ethnic groups and religions under the law renders each group worthy of that right by winning its loyalty and thus inspiring its service. To endorse the right to build the project in these terms implies the rightness of the project "to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in Lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances" for a community that has earned the equality afforded to it by the law. To draw back that more generous affirmation of right is to drain the blood out of the initial expression of support.
Today, our nation is strengthened by millions of Muslim Americans. They excel in every walk of life. Muslim American communities —- including mosques in all 50 states —- also serve their neighbors. Muslim Americans protect our communities as police officers and firefighters and first responders. Muslim American clerics have spoken out against terror and extremism, reaffirming that Islam teaches that one must save human life, not take it. And Muslim Americans serve with honor in our military. At next week’s iftar at the Pentagon, tribute will be paid to three soldiers who gave their lives in Iraq and now rest among the heroes of Arlington National Cemetery.
These Muslim Americans died for the security that we depend on, and the freedoms that we cherish. They are part of an unbroken line of Americans that stretches back to our founding; Americans of all faiths who have served and sacrificed to extend the promise of America to new generations, and to ensure that what is exceptional about America is protected -– our commitment to stay true to our core values, and our ability slowly but surely to perfect our union.
The country is aflame. The demagogues have been further empowered and smell blood. I think Obama needs to give a major speech on freedom of religion and the Constitution's protection of the minority rights more generally -- a spech of the scope and import of his speech on race in the wake of the Reverend Wright controversy.
Previous post: Obama honors his oath of office