Opinion: On mosque near 'Ground Zero', a distinction without a difference
Last week, The Daily Beast's Peter Beinart proposed the idea that "you can't divorce the right to do something from the ability to exercise that right."
He was referring to the debate over whether Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf should go ahead with plans to build a mosque on private property a short distance from the former site of the World Trade Center.
Among those opposed to such action, a distinction has emerged. Some argue either that Muslims do not have a right to build a place of worship in the United States or that other citizens have a right which supersedes that freedom of religious expression. Another, ostensibly more reasonable, group acknowledges the right certainly exists but argues that the spiritual leader should scrap the plans anyway. Their assertion is that having the right to do something does not necessarily mean one should exercise that right.
Although it is certainly an inexact analogy, this reminds me a bit of women's rights in Iran. The law of the Islamic Republic does allow women to run for and hold elected offices. Somehow, despite hundreds of attempts and an apparent lack of legal obstacles though, no woman has ever been certified by the Guardian Council to run for President. A contradiction seems to exist between what is legally permissible and what is socially allowable.
There are times when the liberties enshrined in our Constitution afford rights to people that make us uncomfortable. Standing up for those rights anyway is a true expression of patriotism. Legally allowing an action while using popular opinion to effectively forbid it is a specious way to honor a fundamental American value.