America “Refudiates” Rights When Used

easy riderThe controversy over building an Islamic community center near Ground Zero shows that in America, you have constitutional rights – until the second you try to use them. Then you find out exactly how many rights you really have, and how free you truly are. Use them you lose them. Especially if you’re espousing a dissenting, unpopular and/ or minority point of view.

Critics of efforts by reportedly moderate Muslims to construct what some call a mosque two blocks from the former Twin Towers site cross party lines. In a rare display of bipartisanship, Republican House Minority Leader John Boehner and Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid are among the many who oppose establishing the Islamic venue near this “sacred ground.” That supposed fighting liberal, former antiwar presidential candidate, Vermont governor and Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean, chimed in, saying the plan to construct the center near the site of the 9/11 attacks “is a real affront.” On both sides of the aisle there is zero tolerance for the so-called “Ground Zero mosque.”

However, what’s really revealing is most of these detractors recognize that Muslims do indeed have a constitutional right to build their Cordoba House on private property in Lower Manhattan. That right is enshrined in our Bill of Rights. The First Amendment not only guarantees free speech but that: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”

As Boehner put it: “The fact that someone has the right to do something doesn’t necessarily make it the right thing to do.” Spelling and/or vocabulary-challenged Sarah Palin originally tweeted that Muslims should “refudiate” building near Ground Zero. The former Alaska governor and GOP Vice Presidential candidate subsequently asked: “We all know that they have the right to do it, but should they?”

On July 28, the venerable Anti-Defamation League – created in 1913 to fight bigotry – issued this official statement: “Proponents of the Islamic Center may have every right to build at this site… But ultimately this is not a question of rights, but a question of what is right. In our judgment, building an Islamic Center in the shadow of the World Trade Center will cause some victims more pain – unnecessarily – and that is not right.”

In July, Tennessee’s Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey took the notion of constitutional rights and how they apply to Muslims to dizzying new heights (or lows). Ramsey, who’s now running for governor, acknowledged: “Now certainly we do protect our religions… Now, you know, I’m all about freedom of religion. I value the First Amendment as much as I value the Second Amendment as much as I value the Tenth Amendment and on and on and on… We live under our Constitution and they live under our Constitution.” So how did the Republican get out of applying these, you know, constitutional rights to Islam? Because: “Now, you could even argue whether being a Muslim is actually a religion, or is it a nationality, way of life, cult whatever you want to call it.” So with Houdini-like magical agility Ramsey escapes from the constitution’s requirements by denying, instant presto, that Islam is a religion to begin with. Shazam!

Even Barack Obama seemed to echo these sentiments. At an August 13 White House dinner honoring Islam’s holy month of Ramadan, the President declared: “…Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country. 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 unshakeable… The writ of our Founders must endure.” As an attorney, Obama knows the law of the land. However, in his usual trying-to-have-it-both-ways manner, the next day the opportunist-in-chief backtracked: “I will not comment on the wisdom of making a decision to put a mosque there.

The implication is clear: People in America have rights – they just shouldn’t use them. All this reminds me of the “love it or leave it” and “my country, right or wrong” days, when civil rights and peace activists were told not to demonstrate against Washington’s Vietnam or racial policies because “this is a free country.” Really? Then why couldn’t we grow our hair long, sit where we wanted on the bus, petition the government, peaceably assembly and protest, when these rights are guaranteed by our founding documents? What kind of “freedom” is this?

I recently saw the Dennis Hopper show in L.A.’s Geffen Contemporary at MOCA. Along with the actor/director’s artwork were clips from Hopper’s films, including a philosophical scene from 1969’sEasy Rider that perfectly expresses America’s contradictory stance on rights and liberties. In it, Jack Nicholson plays Southern attorney George Hanson, while Hopper is the biker Billy, who laments that he and Wyatt (Peter Fonda) can’t book a motel room because of their hippie appearance:

Billy: “…They’re scared, man.”

George: “They’re not scared of you. They’re scared of what you represent to ’em.”

Billy: “…All we represent to them, man, is somebody who needs a haircut.”

George: “Oh, no. What you represent to them is freedom.”

Billy: “What the hell is wrong with freedom? That’s what it’s all about.”

George: “Oh, yeah, that’s right. That’s what’s it’s all about, all right. But talkin’ about it and bein’ it, that’s two different things. I mean, it’s real hard to be free when you are bought and sold in the marketplace. Of course, don’t ever tell anybody that they’re not free, ’cause then they’re gonna get real busy killin’ and maimin’ to prove to you that they are. Oh, yeah, they’re gonna talk to you, and talk to you, and talk to you about individual freedom. But they see a free individual, it’s gonna scare ’em.”

Billy: “Well, it don’t make ’em runnin’ scared.”

George: “No, it makes ’em dangerous.”

Sure enough, shortly afterwards George is clubbed to death by rednecks, while Billy and Wyatt are eventually gunned down riding their motorcycles.

Every grade school student is taught that what’s now America was founded by Pilgrims fleeing religious persecution. But then those suspected of believing in Wicca were burned at the stake during the Salem witch trials. Indians perceived as nature-worshipping “pagans” suffered genocide and forcible conversion. Protestant white America went to war with Mexico’s brown “papists,” annexing huge swathes of territory. Today, the religious intolerance displayed by the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” brouhaha is only the tip of the iceberg of America’s Islamophobia. We preach separation of church and state in this country – we just don’t practice separation of mosque and state.

Americans want their constitutional cake and they want to eat it, too. We covet the lofty stature bestowed by noble ideals, and to be regarded at home and abroad as high-minded. But the fact is that many Americans – perhaps most – don’t really believe in our most basic constitutional rights, including “the free exercise” of religion. Many of us say we want equal rights for all – just not for those gays who wish to wed. And so on.

If we have rights except when we choose to act on them, do we really have those constitutional rights in the first place? I say: My country, rights not wrongs.

Ed Rampell

Ed Rampell is an L.A.-based freelance writer and author of Progressive Hollywood.


  1. Luke Easter says

    American Indian

    There’s only one real true American,
    A human being here from the start,
    Although existing of many tribes,
    All nations made whole from each part.

    Unlike the movies, the Indian never started the fight,
    Only retaliating to save and protect property rights,
    Now realizing profits from ventures on tribunal owned land,
    Along comes the U.S. Government sticking out its hand.

    Even going to court in a lawsuit the attorneys are prepared,
    Claiming land that is non-taxable the tribes should pay a share,
    Are the powers that be going to collect the monies for the needy?
    Or like everything else distribute to the Washington Greedy?

    Was the Indian really thought of after the death of Sitting Bull?
    Only when billions of dollars casinos on their land began to pull,
    How does the government attempt to collect on property they stole?
    From original owners a miniscule fraction of a fraction of the whole.

    Land that was stolen because some prospectors found gold,
    The value of which Indian tribes were never informed or told,
    A government that feels it is constitutionally entitled, oh how bold,
    Acres not returned to the rightful owner but illegally leased or sold.

    This always happens in politics so I kinda, sorta, understand,
    But, the American Indian was born and raised on this land,
    Long before any explorer or Christopher Columbus in 1492,
    We’re crying about illegal aliens? The foot’s in the other shoe.

    I thought about this due to the fuss made about a certain Prophet,
    What kind of idiot thinks it’s OK to make fun of Muhammad?
    Millions in property damage and several lives have been lost,
    And this form of idiotic behavior champions what type of cause?

    Why slight Islam or any of the other secular religious nations?
    Whatever happened to hey, how be you, greetings, salutations?
    Intentionally disrespecting others beliefs while slamming the door,
    You are surprised sects are outraged seeking revenge through war?

    Yes, there’s the knucklehead claiming it’s protected by free speech,
    When I was growing up that’s not what the school system would teach,
    You simply could not afford to yell fire in any crowded movie theatre,
    And you certainly can’t make fun of an Icon Prophet in any newspaper.

    We celebrate Lincoln and Washington on Presidents day,
    But it’s not right to honor Martin Luther King Jr. some still say,
    How many Presidents have taken time to champion the needy?
    Oh yeah, did early America ever honor any Indian peace treaty?

    It was the Navajo Code Talkers, who fearlessly turned the tide,
    Without them World War II, would’ve been won by the other side,
    In an American society where Indians were degraded and smeared,
    Yet, for this country in a war not theirs, they still volunteered.

    American statesmen are honored on ones, twenties, fifties, fives, tens,
    With the largest denomination being donned by Benjamin Franklin,
    This is what puzzles me and I wonder if anyone really will know,
    Why was an Indian’s head on a nickel more famous for the Buffalo?

    It’s 2009, there is a lot of animosity towards illegal immigration,
    This from the ancestors who actually stole the American Nation,
    Obviously many don’t read the bible, to them just so you’ll know,
    Galatians 6: 7, the United States is reaping exactly what it sowed.

    Upon their arrival the Indians welcomed Pilgrims into their tents,
    Killed the braves, raped squaws, to the reservation kids were sent,
    Then they went out, bought, beat, raped and murdered the slaves,
    Now they’re hell bent out of shape because Hispanics want in today?

    And, the Africans not murdered or mutilated were eventually sold,
    At the center of the market place many times paid for by Indian gold,
    Oh, it’s OK for illegal aliens in sweat shops, factories, farms or fields,
    Way under minimum wage in jobs we don’t want, what’s the big deal?

    Ruthless tactics by the King of England is why the British left there,
    Likewise all foreigners because they were also being treated unfair,
    Centuries later Haitians, Hondurans, Cubans and others want to go,
    To the land of opportunity just like the Hispanics, north of Mexico.

    1492 upward the “Doctrine Of Discovery” was used to deal with tribes,
    European countries and the United States were now legally justified,
    It was just an early politically correct way to switch the truth with lies,
    Initially not militarily strong, by experience they were deceitfully wise.

    Was Thomas Jefferson having problems with drafts for the Constitution?
    Ok did attending several Indian Tribunals actually help with the solution?
    If every treaty had not been broken and the Indian was not mistreated?
    What are the chances poems & articles like this would ever be needed?

    Yeah! This is the great America, land of the free and home of the brave,
    That could be challenged by the latter Indian version deep in the grave,
    Army victory? What else to expect with guns versus bows and arrows?
    Common sense, fair as ten million eagles against one million sparrows.

    Boys assigned to the reservation the English Language they had to speak,
    And those caught speaking their native tongue were pulled aside and beat,
    Italians, Japanese, Chinese you name it they still converse in native tongue,
    The tribal voice is lost to most American Indians thanks to the butt of a gun.

    As for the girls, well everyone knows what happens after planting the seed,
    I am thinking of a term used, you know a phrase to describe it. “Half Breed! ”
    Do you think I’m just blowing smoke, making it up, ha would you like to bet?
    Hey don’t believe me then check it out at the library even better the Internet.

    I am not being cynical, resentful or saying it just happened to Indians, relax,
    Cultural destruction was also forced upon (Negros) African American Blacks,
    How many adult Indians do you know who speak the language of their tribe?
    There aren’t too many whom are familiar with customs & know you know why.

    8/10/09 Kids are not allowed access to school @ San Felipe Del Rio,
    Kelt Cooper says, ‘We have a law. We have a policy. We follow, ”
    Well, if the United States had kept and not broken every single treaty,
    What are the chances no Mexicans or Indians would ever be needy?

    01/01/10, The Hal Lindsey Report asks, “Does the flag still wave? ”
    He delivers quotes that our so-called, “founding fathers” did say,
    Talking about Religion, the Constitution plus Christians but wait,
    What do they have in common with land spilled blood would take?

    Choctaw, Kiowa, Chipewyan, Tanaina, Chickasaw, Dakota Sioux,
    Real history will truthfully establish there were many, many more too,
    Long before any form of Religion, Constitution or Christians arrived,
    This land we now call “America” was only inhabited by Indian Tribes.

    Not one good thing of value was given, the government lied and took,
    If I wrote more about this injustice it would not be a poem but a book,
    Indian land & goods were apprehended, confiscated by want not need,
    May this have been the first real example of good old American Greed?

    For whomever reading this thinks it’s plain old hogwash & none of it is true,
    Go back to the film archives, Candice Bergen, Peter Strauss in, “Soldier Blue, ”
    A vicious slaughter of Cheyenne Indians the, “Sand Creek Massacre of 1864, ”
    Although this is only one movie filmmakers could have made hundreds more.

    There were 18 Medals of Honor awarded to members of the US 7th Calvary,
    For the massacre of 350 men, women, children waving a white flag in 1890,
    They had surrendered and were unarmed at the battle of then Cankpe Opi,
    Led by Big Foot mostly widows & children it is now know as Wounded Knee.

    After World War II, there is a movement by many politicians to do all they can,
    Restoring honor and dignity to the Japanese right here in American not Japan,
    02/19/1942 Executive Order 9066, now many are sorry wanting to lend a hand,
    Restoring the lost with apologies not in their country, on American Indian Land.

    Reparations, “The Civil Liberties Act of 1988” supplied payment and here is why,
    Well, “race prejudice, war hysteria and a failure of political leadership” okay lies,
    Indians here were lied to, their land and gold was stolen, destroying a way of life,
    Natives to this soil are wronged as those from 1,000’s of miles are treated right?

    We give millions to and praise athletes, who are MVP,
    Acting stars who make movies that our children can’t see,
    Those in the know recklessly hire unqualified next of kin,
    When in the heck are we going to honor the American Indian?

  2. Marshall says

    Ed, I am sorry to post twice, but I forgot an interesting point about Muslim countries. Unlike our religions, Muslim ends up also being the form of goverment in those countries. Turkey is having trouble keeping their form of government from becoming a Muslim country with a Muslim government and faith.

    If we had the same model, the local senior pastor would be the local senior judge.

  3. Marshall says

    Freedom of religion, The reason the Bay colony in MA was founded by people from england. Funny thing, Rhode Island was founded for same reason by people from MA Bay colony. Seems there are always some local rules that cause that freedom to be managed. Sounds bad but consider what could happen with freedom without any rules. Some private property has been taken to build a mall, what happened to freedom there? I am not sure if they even own all of the property as of now.

    It is not like something bad could happen right? Well if I were a radical thinker and I wanted to complete the job started by my Muslim brothers, I would plan on the building being a place for a small bomb with a bid bang and put it in the basement of the church of my brothers. Probably a low risk idea but in another life, I would have been more worried than I am now.

    All property has rules of use and construction, no one is fully free

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