Give Me Liberty Or Give Them Death!

So lately I’ve been a bit obsessive over the “Ground Zero mosque” and Dr. Laura controversies. I find myself surrounded mostly by very sympathetic company. With friends, family and various online acquaintances there’s a general consensus that a conservative movement is simply walking over the Constitution for political ends. While I am not exactly in love with the constitutional democracy that we have, I make no claims otherwise, and I expect others to play by their own rules. I am reminded of G.W. Bush’s post-9-11 speeches that claimed terrorists “hate our freedoms,” particularly those of free speech and religious freedom. But isn’t it becoming rather obvious that many Americans hate their freedoms as well?

  • The right of the public to express criticism has been attacked, as I mentioned in my last post, by those who think some speech comes with an invulnerability from scrutiny or reprecussions. By invoking the First Amendment against critics, there is a disturbing implication that government could intervene to stop the public’s right to oppose certain beliefs and opinions.
  • The mosque opposition (in NY and TN) acknowledges that there is a right to build a place of worship, and their criticism against the project is in a sense no different from criticizing Dr. Laura. However, it does deeply diminish Bush’s words about religious tolerance. Here in America we just strongly suggest religious minorities remain in ghettos. Muslims are cordially invited to oppress themselves.
  • Our justice system is deemed to be ineffective for fighting terrorism. Suspects must be detained in Cuba of all places to allow the rights of criminals to be suspended. Those who do receive a trial should have it in military, not criminal, courts because criminal courts can’t be trusted for a proper verdict.

Quite a lousy thing, those rights. That a rich white person has their God-given right to fire off the n-word as they like, but “liberals” should be kept silent in response. That America embraces religious freedom, but minorities ought to stay in the closet. The basis of our criminal justice system is fairness, which is not effective for punishing our enemies. But what bloody use is a “right” if it’s to be suspended for those on the margins?

All liberal thinkers admit there are always limits to a right. Making a death threat against someone is not protected speech. The right to bear arms does not mean a right to use them at will. The catch is if you squeeze those rights away from those most in need of it–minorities and your political enemies–there comes a point where there’s no difference between liberalism and totalitarianism. In the Third Reich there was plenty of liberty for those who stuck to Nazi dogma.

Yes, I am invoking the Slippery Slope. Not to forecast an immanent plunge, but there is movement. What’s worrisome about these little fascisms is that they’re marketed as liberty and freedom.

I can already hear the sound of some objections, “If you think Schlessinger should be pressed not to use racial epithets, why shouldn’t Muslims be pressed not to build mosques in certain places?” The difference as I see it is a matter of what principle is invoked. To speak out against gratuitous use of racist speech is to say “I do not tolerate your racism.” To speak out against mosques near Manhattan is to say “I do not tolerate the presence of your religion.” Whatever choices you make are going to say something about where your values lie.

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