Republican values, past their expiration date

The ongoing imbroglio over the construction of a mosque on private property in lower Manhattan has proven two things: 1. Cable news has something to get it through the doldrums of August, and 2. The Republican Party will use even the U.S. Constitution as a weapon of hate.

President Obama, who like all presidents before him was sworn into office with his right hand on a Bible and an oath to protect the U.S. Constitution, waded into the mosque controversy (wisely or unwisely I’ll leave to others to decide) over the weekend. Some thought the politically expedient way to address the matter was to relegate it to “local issue” status, and thus not worthy of a president’s comment. But in reality, the matter could have a meaningful and lasting impact on several of the unalienable rights protected by the U.S. Constitution — namely, the protections provided for freedom of religion and private property rights. Any president (or public official sworn to uphold the Constitution) who believes in the oath he swears before taking office has an obligation to stand up for the freedom protections in the Constitution.

Building a mosque on private property near the World Trade Center site isn’t ideal, it makes nobody comfortable and it tests fundamental American values and what it means to be American. President Obama has it right — the constitutional protections of freedom of religion do not apply to some religions; they apply to all of them. These fundamental protections and freedoms serve as the foundation of this nation.

Ironically, leading Republicans have decided to abandon the Constitution in order to politically persecute a religion, private property rights, the president’s courage to stand up for our freedoms and our Constitution itself. Why is their behavior ironic even if it’s not surprising? For two reasons.

First, Republicans love to wrap themselves in the flag and present themselves as defenders of freedom. But standing up for our founding principles cannot be done selectively. In this instance, Obama is the true patriot — putting the fundamental protections embodied in the Constitution above short-term political and partisan advantage.

Second, the Republican Party’s 2008 platform committee identified “safeguarding religious liberties” and “preserving American’s property rights” among its nine “values.” On religion, the Republican National Committee (RNC) “values” page says: “Our Constitution guarantees the free exercise of religion,” and on private property it says: “Every person has the right to acquire, own, use, possess, enjoy, and dispose of private property.”  

But when it comes to the mosque controversy, the Republican leaders have abandoned those values. Instead, they prey on fear and play politics to spread suspicion and mistrust undermining the very freedoms provided in Constitution that they feign to protect. You can’t be for freedom of religion for your religion but not for the religion of millions of other American citizens. What’s missing from the RNC “values” website is the expiration date on Republican values.

Republican leaders have an “ignore and amend” policy with regard to the Constitution. When the Constitution protects an individual they don’t agree with, the Republicans ignore those rights (see women’s rights, workers’ rights, civil rights and now religious freedom). When they see an opportunity to limit individual liberties for political gain, Republican leaders work to “amend” the Constitution in order to alienate Americans (see gay marriage and Sen. Lindsey Graham’s, R-S.C., assault on the American-born children of immigrants). Luckily for them, the U.S. Constitution that protects their right to behave this way has no expiration date.