We take a lot for granted in this nation. We live in one of the freest countries on the planet and we have expectations for that freedom. We rarely talk about the price for that freedom.
"Freedom ain't free" is an old truism that gets trotted out usually when we go to war, as if the only price Americans should ever pay for freedom is their blood (or more correctly, the blood of the poorest among us). I suppose some of that is because of the mythology of the American Revolution: we fought a war for independence, true enough, but over the centuries plenty of people paid plenty of dearer prices for freedoms.
I believe the Founders thought that the prices of freedom were so obvious that they didn't need delineation, that there was no need for a Bill of Responsibility to go along with the Bill of Rights, and so subsequent generations have lost touch with the price that must daily be paid to secure our freedom, and have long assumed freedom was a gift the Divinity bestowed upon us as some Chosen People, that our Founders in their gifted wisdom secured for us and gave to us in perpetuity.
If only Jefferson et al had the truly infinite wisdom that people are inherently lazy bastards.
I really think we in this country take our freedom for granted, and the only time we appreciate that freedom is in the breaching of it. And boy, don't we total everything, every little incursion and inconvenience into our lives as an abrogation of freedom. What happens then is we lose sight of what freedom really means.
I think that if we were truly called to account for our freedom on a daily basis, we might choose more carefully those "freedoms" we fight for. If each morning we woke up and were handed a task that would allow us that day's measure of freedom, we'd quickly start to realize that the need to wear a helmet on a motorcycle careening down a freeway or to smoke a cigarette inside a bar are "freedoms" not worth fighting for.
The more thought I put into this idea, the more I think there's a book to be written about this topic, and perhaps I'll sit down and write it one day. Not today. I want to focus on one price of freedom that is uppermost in my mind as the controversy over the Cordoba Center unfolds.
One huge price, one big sacrifice that Americans will have to learn to make over the course of the next century, is the sacrifice of personal principle for another person's freedom.
The freedom to worship as one pleases is undeniable in the Constitution. It was so important, so central to the very founding of the colonies that created this nation, that the Founders made sure it was in the very first delineation of the rights of the individual, along with the right to speak freely. This is a freedom that is somewhat under attack in this controversy.
I say "somewhat" because the structure to be built a half mile away from Ground Zero is not a house of worship. It will contain a place to worship, to answer the task demanded by Allah to pray facing Mecca. Most of the building will be for secular activities, much like any other building in New York City, including the Freedom Tower.
Too, the freedom to own property and to use that property as one sees fit, barring any criminal activity, is also written into the Constitution, and is so complex that the Founders could not completely delineate this freedom in ten amendments. It's in the Third Amendment, which bans the force quartering of soldiers on one's land. It's in the Fourth Amendment, the "search and seizure" of personal property. It's in the Fifth Amendment, which establishes the concept of eminent domain and when it may be applied. It's in the Thirteen Amendment, which banned slavery (which was, sadly, about property). And it's in the Sixteenth Amendment, which established the income tax.
Imam Rauf is clearly allowed to build this center on this site and even if he wanted to turn the entire thing into a mosque, no one can stop him.
it is his right. It is his freedom. It is a freedom that the rest of us must pay a price for. That price is acknowledging its right to exist, and to leave it in peace.
That we find something odious and objectionable is not sufficient reason for it not to be done or built. The whole point of a Constitution is to deny the majority a tyranny over the minority. The "will of the people" is a fickle thing, usually woefully mis- or underinformed, and an unsafe basis to build the foundation for a democracy on.
Forty years ago, women were denied equal opportunities to work.
Fifty years ago, most Americans would have said that black people should be kept "separate but equal".
Sixty years ago, they wouldn't even have said "equal".
Seventy years ago, most people would have said the Japs needed to be interred for the security of the nation. Oh. And that Jews were among the problems of the world.
Eighty years ago, Italians were the subversives trying to undermine freedom.
Ninety years ago, most people would have said women were too stupid to vote.
All these were the will of the people, about to be brought up short.
Forty years from now, we'll look back on this controversy, just as we look back on the short list I posted, with some measure of embarrassment and wonder. How could we fuck people with our own laws and Constitution?
It wasn't that long ago, less than a hundred years, that a similar claim was made about a Semitic people by an upstart political movement in a civilized and advanced nation. Led by a charismatic leader who rode the horse of hate to rise to the top of a democratically-elected government, Adolph Hitler then institutionalized hatemongering into the political and legal systems of Germany.
We in America looked on, our Constitution clutched firmly in our hands, and commented "that can't happen here."
Oh, but it can. It can because we Americans will not pay the price of freedom.