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To ban mosque is to subvert Constitution

By Roland S. Martin, CNN Contributor
  • Roland Martin: America's rights being chipped away under guise of fighting war on terror
  • Protecting rights means upholding freedom of religion for all Americans, he writes
  • Martin says fear, hatred of Muslims behind opposition to the New York Islamic center
  • Even pain of 9/11 doesn't justify violating U.S. Constitution, Martin writes

Editor's note: Roland S. Martin, a CNN political analyst, is a syndicated columnist and author of "Listening to the Spirit Within: 50 Perspectives on Faith," and the new book, "The First: President Barack Obama's Road to the White House." He is a commentator for TV One Cable Network and host of a Sunday morning news show.

(CNN) -- "My faith in the Constitution is whole; it is complete; it is total. And I am not going to sit here and be an idle spectator to the diminution, the subversion, the destruction, of the Constitution."

Those eloquent words were spoken on July 25, 1974, by an outstanding woman and fellow Texan, Rep. Barbara Jordan, when she was a member of the House Judiciary Committee investigating the impeachment of President Richard Nixon.

And as I have listened and watched the stunning debate over the potential location of an Islamic community center and mosque two blocks away from where the World Trade Center towers were destroyed on September 11, 2001, Jordan's precise words keep coming to mind.

In the aftermath of the tragic 9/11 attacks, the refrain from many Americans was that it was critical for the United States to prevent the terrorists, al Qaeda, from taking away what we wrested from the British between 1775 and 1783 -- our independence and democracy.

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Yet in our zeal to fight terrorism worldwide, we have chipped away at our precious rights, willing to surrender hard-fought civil liberties under the guise of protecting ourselves from terrorists at home and abroad. Today, we are a nation embroiled in a local zoning dispute over a plan for a 13-story Islamic cultural center that will house a mosque, theater and other amenities.

It has been inaccurately described as the "ground zero mosque," a ridiculous term considering it will be two blocks away from the site of the fallen World Trade Center towers.

What has been fascinating and demoralizing to watch is the clear and unmistakable religious bigotry that has taken over this conversation. Critics of the project contend that they are not trying to trample on our precious constitutional right of religious freedom by opposing the project. They contend that it is simply in bad taste to build it so close to ground zero, and that Americans are far too emotional about the issue.

Others words really come to mind. Irrational. Hysterical. Intolerant. Hypocritical.

Over the last several years, we have seen American troops shedding blood on the battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan, fighting for American liberty and values. We hold ourselves up with self-righteousness as the paragon of democracy and freedom, yet we are quick to stifle the freedom of others we simply don't agree with.

A lot of the hateful rhetoric spewing out of talk radio, on blogs and on mainstream TV stems from a deep-seated mistrust, hatred and dislike of anyone practicing Islam.

In our politically correct way, we say we respect Muslims who aren't intent on launching a jihad, but the venom in the words of many reveals that isn't true. In a debate on CNN, James Carville talked about his Muslim friends being sickened by this attitude, only to see Bill Bennett then ask if those friends had publicly repudiated the Muslims involved in 9/11 and terrorism.

Is that what we've come to? We want to demand to see IDs of Hispanic-looking folks who might be here illegally, but we also want American Muslims to prove their patriotism by denouncing any and every crazed and deranged Muslim in the world who seeks to do us harm. Never mind that we have Muslims fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan; prove yourselves to be worthy Americans who are on "our side."

The pain and heartache that was created on 9/11 was unbearable for many. The nation was traumatized, shocked and paralyzed by the brazen acts caused by the bastards who swore allegiance, not to peace, but to a murderous man named Osama bin Laden and a loose-knit terror network named al Qaeda.

For some reason, Republicans have lost sight of the fact that even President George W. Bush made clear that America isn't at war with Islam. And clearly some Democrats are so afraid to stand up for the U.S. Constitution that they are about as weak as a wet sheet of paper.

Now instead of joining hands with fellow Americans, including Muslim Americans, our deep-seated hatred of Muslims is calling us to detest this community center and mosque.

As the drama has unfolded with rapid speed over the last several days, I've tried to understand how a nation so willing to pronounce our "American values" across the world could so easily forget that the early American settlers left nations to escape religious persecution. Our Founding Fathers could have easily created a national religion. But they had the foresight to allow this to be a land where anyone could choose, or not choose, to practice their religion freely.

Years ago while interning at the Houston Defender, I remember writing an editorial about a Texas ACLU lawyer and member of the NAACP defending a leader of the Ku Klux Klan, who was being ordered to turn over membership rolls of the group. No matter how much the attorney detested the KKK personally, he spoke of their rights being just as important as the NAACP's, and cited how efforts were made in the 1940s, '50s and '60s to force the NAACP to reveal their membership rolls.

Fighting to protect and uphold the U.S. Constitution even means defending those we can't stand. We cannot be so willing to exclude someone from the protection that that document affords.

Rep. Barbara Jordan also spoke to this issue in that tense hearing room on July 25, 1974.

"Earlier today, we heard the beginning of the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States: 'We, the people.' It's a very eloquent beginning," she said. "But when that document was completed on the 17th of September in 1787, I was not included in that 'We, the people.' I felt somehow for many years that George Washington and Alexander Hamilton just left me out by mistake. But through the process of amendment, interpretation and court decision, I have finally been included in 'We, the people.' "

Any American who claims to love this nation with all his or her heart should take the same view. No matter how raw our emotions have been rubbed, no matter how much anger we have for the despicable human beings who killed thousands of Americans on 9/11, none of us should be so angry and shameful that we trample the one document that has held this nation together all these years.

I am a believer in Jesus Christ; he is my personal lord and savior. I am an American who loves this country with all my heart and soul. But I also believe that the building of a Muslim community center near the World Trade Center site will not be an insult to the souls lost when those planes flew into the Twin Towers. It will not be a slap in the face to others traumatized by the events of that day. Allowing this project to go forward will show the best of America. It will mean that we not only love and respect our values, but we revere them to the point that we allow something to go forward even when other Americans disagree.

Even the pain of 9/11 isn't enough to turn our backs on the U.S. Constitution. That would simply be un-American.

The opinions in this commentary are solely those of Roland S. Martin.