Religious rights are Constitutional, not a popularity contest

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First Amendment protects anyone who wants to practice their religion in U.S.

By Phyllis McLaughlin

A couple things happened while I was on vacation last week really make me angry. They are national news items that have been gnawing at me for days.

First is the claim that President Obama, in a speech last week, endorsed a mosque to be built at Ground Zero, the name for the lots where the World Trade Center buildings collapsed after terrorist attacks Sept. 11, 2001.

There are two things wrong with this statement, and I noticed that even a local newspaper (which shall remain nameless), erroneously stated the misperception about the president’s comment in a headline on yesterday’s front page.

“Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country,” Obama said Friday night. “That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances. This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable.”

How can we, as Americans, argue that statement?

His opponents are saying he approves of a mosque being built at Ground Zero; that he is inserting his personal views on the topic.

How? He is simply pointing out one basic and unique tenet in our Constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. ...”

That would apply to any lawmaker – federal, state or local. And we, as Americans, should hold that dear; it is what separates us from other countries and makes us great.

As people so often say at Memorial Day and Veterans Day ceremonies, our soldiers put their lives on the line – and many lose them – fighting for the very freedoms we have. They are not fighting for Christian freedoms only; they are fighting for the freedom of all Americans, regardless of race, creed, color or religious beliefs. To argue against the mosque – which, by the way is NOT to be located at Ground Zero but rather nearby, in a city with dozens if not hundreds of mosques throughout (the other fact being erroneously reported in the news) – is to diminish everything our veterans and soldiers have done.

President Obama’s words do not endorse any specific mosque, but were meant to remind Americans that all people have the right to practice their religion – even if it isn’t popular at the moment. Anybody remember that John F. Kennedy was reviled by some for being Catholic? Doesn’t that sound completely silly in this day and age?

Last time I checked, the laws established in the U.S. Constitution aren’t subject to popular vote. And I wouldn’t want to live in a country where they were.

And while I’m on the subject of soldiers, here is the other national news story that is bugging me this week.

How many people realize that the war in Iraq is ending this month? The last combat troops are being pulled out of that country, and so far that story has been buried by national news media. In fact, the Today Show mentioned it – almost in passing – 20 minutes into the first hour of Monday’s broadcast.

I don’t hear anyone celebrating this milestone. Why aren’t we dancing in the streets? One campaign promise, something most Americans have wanted for seven years, is coming true. And nobody is paying attention.

To learn more about the withdrawal – and for some great reading – I urge you to visit Stripes.com online. The newspaper, which I worked for in 1999 to 2001, serves U.S. forces overseas and has an excellent series running this week on this very topic. It should be a must-read for everyone.

Phyllis McLaughlin is editor of The Trimble Banner and lives in Milton, Ky.