Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. - First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States
The Anti-Defamation League's leaders have been shocked and appalled that many people who normally support them have been shocked and appalled at their stance opposing the construction of a mosque near Ground Zero in New York. Their statement on the proposed construction of the mosque includes the following:
Proponents of the Islamic Center may have every right to build at this site, and may even have chosen the site to send a positive message about Islam. The bigotry some have expressed in attacking them is unfair, and wrong. 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.
You see, the Moslems must not be allowed to build their place of worship and fellowship because it would make some people feel bad. One has to wonder how the ADL might feel if it were - oh, pick a city - Salt Lake City and there was opposition to building a Jewish temple near the center of town. After all, it would probably hurt some peoples' feelings to have the temple built there, so let the Jews find some other place to worship - except that some people in that new place will probably have hurt feelings as well.
The National Director of the ADL protests loudly that they have stood against prejudice and discrimination time and time again and so they should get a pass on this one. Well, yes, they have, and no, they shouldn't.
In his recent blog post on the subject, Paul Krugman said, "One thing I thought Jews were supposed to understand is that they need to be advocates of universal rights, not just rights for their particular group — because it’s the right thing to do, but also because, ahem, there aren’t enough of us. We can’t afford to live in a tribal world. But ADL has apparently forgotten all that. Shameful — and stupid."
He has expressed my feelings on the subject exactly and I can't improve on that. I am sorely disappointed in the ADL, an organization that I have admired in the past, as well as certain politicians such as former mayor of New York Giuliani who have sought to demagogue and make political hay from the controversy.
We either believe in the First Amendment or we don't. We believe that people should be able to worship as they choose, including building their houses of worship where they choose - or we don't. We can't pick and choose which groups will be allowed these privileges. That would make a mockery of our Constitution. As Krugman says, one would think that Jews, with their history of being discriminated against, would understand that only too well.