By Bill Hare


The stalwarts on the political right for years have been the ones to wave the U.S. Constitution in the faces of progressives, claiming that they have ventured beyond it and threaten its very existence.

Such assaults earnestly commenced during the era of Franklin Delano Roosevelt as he sought to implement New Deal programs.  The American Liberty League, consisting of the most conservative elements of the corporate community, railed against programs such as Social Security as socialistic and unconstitutional.

Presidential candidate Senator John F. Kennedy recognized that he was facing the same forces that had vigorously opposed Roosevelt on Social Security as he advocated Medicare during his successful 1960 presidential campaign.  Kennedy repeatedly noted that 90 percent of congressional Republicans in the mid-thirties opposed Roosevelt as he advocated Social Security and that same number opposed Medicare.

Opponents of these programs maintained that because measures such as those seeking to be implemented were not clearly spelled out in the U.S. Constitution either in its original form or through amendments that they were unconstitutional on their face.  

They failed to recognize or acknowledge the key constitutional element of implied powers, even though the doctrine was enunciated way back in 1803 by the longest serving chief justice in U.S. history, John Marshall, in the landmark case of Marbury v. Madison.  

Where do these self-described constitutional stalwarts stand, on the other hand, on the basic First Amendment liberty regarding freedom of worship?  This is a liberty not implied but very specific.  

In New York City we currently have a bellwether case where that basic First Amendment liberty is being assaulted.  Who is doing a large measure of assaulting?  Who has emerged as the most vocal opponent of an imam seeking to build a mosque and community center in the area near Ground Zero of 9/11?  

These are the same forces who have been so vigilant in opposing necessary breakthrough social measures such as Social Security, Medicare, federal regulation, civil rights, and minimum wage legislation.  

They now zealously seek to achieve narrow conformity on behalf of the religious right lobby zealously to prevent someone who dares to interpret God in a manner they oppose from building a place of worship and community center on property owned by the organization he represents.

The movement opposing the construction of the mosque and center has drawn the most vociferous voices of demagoguery and hate from both the religious and political spheres.

On the religious front, as reported in Monday’s New York Times, fire breathing preacher Bill Keller has entered the scene.  He held a service Sunday at the New York Marriott Hotel on West Street, two blocks south of Ground Zero.  Keller once had a nationally televised program that was cancelled after he called Islam a “1,400-year-old lie from the pits of hell.”  He currently has a program carried by a small station in Florida.

To Keller and others like him there is only one way to interpret scripture and believe and that is to follow them.  The New York City mosque controversy has given the Kellers of the world an opportunity to deliver a message of hate embodied by the idea that it is my way or the highway.

Keller is making himself at home in New York City.  As a challenge to the forces of Islam that he condemns to perdition Keller has announced that he is seeking funds to build his own center in the Ground Zero area.

In Keller’s autobiography posted on his website he reveals when he received his calling to the ministry.  He became a minister after serving a sentence in federal prison for insider trading.

It is instructive to observe the disparity of presentation between Keller and others denouncing the mosque and center alongside the actions and words of Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf.  Imam Rauf has a track record of seeking moderation in Islam, as noted by his interaction with other religious leaders to generate broader understanding.  He is considered such a model in this area that the FBI has used him for sensitivity training.

In the electoral political realm one New York office seeker attempting to capitalize on the mosque controversy is Rick Lazio.  Republican gubernatorial candidate Lazio, who is currently running far behind Democrat Andrew Cuomo in polls, has sought to close the ground and gain traction by attacking Imam Rauf as a terrorist sympathizer.

Lazio attaches his accusation to a statement Rauf made that the United States was an “accessory” to 9/11.  Rauf responded by putting the statement into its full and necessary context.  The U.S. was an accessory because President Ronald Reagan and his administration had once provided stinger missiles to the Taliban when it was fighting Russian forces in Afghanistan.

If Lazio is pressed on that point he had better change the subject.  His Republican Party, so many of whose members idolize Ronald Reagan as its “Great Communicator” are on the shakiest of ground regarding the full Afghanistan story and how none other than Osama bin Laden became a beneficiary of U.S. military generosity.

It was refreshing to hear last week one of the sanest and most constitutionally sound statements of the entire mosque controversy debate come from conservative Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, a devoutly religious Mormon who is an elder in the Church of Latter Day Saints.  

Hatch stated that the mosque issue was simply a case of a clergyman practicing his religious freedom by seeking to build a mosque and community center on his own property.      

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