The same foolish and false interpretation of the First Amendment that protects a project like the Ground Zero mosque also protects the planned burning of the Koran.
"In a strange way I'm here to defend his right to do that," said New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Tuesday, referring to Terry Jones, the Florida pastor who intends to burn copies of the Koran on September 11. "I happen to think that it is distasteful. I don't think he would like it if somebody burnt a book that in his religion he thinks is holy. But the First Amendment protects everybody, and you can't say that we're going to apply the First Amendment to only those cases where we are in agreement."
Such pitiful reliance upon mindless cliché and bogus First Amendment jurisprudence renders public officials useless in the face of dangerous stupidity. The truth is that the First Amendment protects neither the Ground Zero mosque nor Jones's burning of copies of the Koran. How do we know this? Because under the real First Amendment, the one written by the Founding Fathers, local communities within states were perfectly free to pass laws prohibiting the construction of particular religious buildings or pass laws that banned book burnings.
Six of the thirteen states that signed the Constitution ran established churches. It is a historical fact that the First Amendment was written not to suppress those state churches but to protect them. Those six states would have never signed the Constitution otherwise. They insisted on the language, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," to make clear that the federal government had no right to establish its own religion and disestablish theirs. The wall of separation in the Constitution is not between government and religion but between the federal government and the states' religious activities.
The notion that the First Amendment requires individual states to treat all religious believers equally was invented out of thin air by judicial activists. For decades after the Constitution was written, several states baldly preferred one religion over another. As author M. Stanton Evans has written, "there remained a network of religious requirements for public office -- typically, that one be a professing Christian of orthodox persuasion. Such requirements existed in New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Georgia and the Carolinas. For example, the state of Vermont, one of the more liberal states of the era (admitted to the Union in 1791) required the following oath of office: 'I do believe in one God, the Creator and Governor of the Universe, the rewarder of the good and the punisher of the wicked. And I do acknowledge the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be given by divine inspiration and own and profess the Protestant religion.'"
The rejection of the real Constitution for the phony "living" one explains today's tyranny of the minority. That tyranny has assumed ironically divergent forms in recent days. In New York City, a majority stands aghast as a group of Muslims tries to build a mosque within blocks of the World Trade Center ruins. In Florida, the majority stands appalled but idle before the pastor of a tiny church who launches an "International Burn-a-Koran Day." Both incidents are, in varying degrees, acts of gross and pointless incivility that do not truly enjoy constitutional protections, but all public officials can mumble in the face of them is the cliché du jour that Americans have a "right to be wrong."
The planned burning of copies of the Koran is a gratuitously stupid and ugly act, one which will mirror radical Islam's violence not illuminate it. But it is also dumb for the U.S. government to elevate the aberrant event's significance. Why are Hillary Clinton and company even talking about it? Jones is the pastor of a church with 50 members. He should be ignored. Instead, the Obama administration and the media, both desperately looking around for evidence of "Islamophobia," continue to build him up, thereby prolonging an Islamic outcry that will endanger U.S. troops.
George Neumayr is editor of Catholic World Report and press critic for California