This is in response to Andrew Hamner’s August 30, 2010, column titled, “Constitutional Controversy Obscures Issues.”
Of course the “Ground Zero mosque” controversy directly involves constitutional issues. Hamner claims that the position of the mosque-supporters possesses an “undeserved veneer of constitutional legitimacy.” Yet Hamner doesn’t account for the fact that supporting the proposed community center (it is a community center, of which a mosque is a part) and supporting the rights of those who wish to construct it are distinct positions.
Though Hamner writes, “No one would prevent the mosque’s construction,” it’s obvious that people would – if they could. That they can’t is thanks to our constitutional rights. Accordingly, in response to the chorus singing, “Don’t let them build that mosque,” the most appropriate and relevant thing is to point to the First Amendment and say, “We must let them.”
Troubling still about Hamner’s column is that, for how it purports to argue that specious constitutional controversy, “masks the real issues,” his column goes by without him ever identifying what the “real issues” are – until, seemingly, at the end. In his last paragraph, Hamner writes that building the community center is “unwise” because folks would get even more anti-Islam on its account and “the status of Islam in this country” would be hurt as a result. “Provocation,” he concludes, “is not the way to increase tolerance.”
The “real issues” seem to be this dreadful opinion. Building an Islamic community center is not inherently a “provocation.” To advise that groups should refrain from exercising their rights because others aren’t happy about it is dangerous. The history of civil rights progress is a history of people ignoring that advice.
“Provocation is not the way to increase tolerance,” Hamner says. However wrong he is to characterize the community center as such, he lives in fantasy to think that succumbing to intolerance will be a better help.
Richard Bradlee Rosengarten
School of Law