The Corner

The Right to Build the Mosque and the Right to Oppose

In her column today, Kathleen Parker argues that the Ground Zero mosque “should be built precisely because we don’t like the idea very much.” She contends that if we want Muslims to tolerate our right to free expression, we must tolerate theirs.

Parker’s argument is both unpersuasive and a flawed rendition of rights doctrine.

Merely because I have a right to do something doesn’t mean it should be done. Neither does it mean that my exercise of the right must be insulated from dissuasion or criticism.

My constitutionally protected right to bear arms permits me to keep firearms in my home. That doesn’t mean I must or should keep arms in my home; and it doesn’t mean that my friends can’t or shouldn’t persuade me not to store guns in my home or, at least, to move the guns to another location. And my friends surely shouldn’t be precluded from persuading me not to store my Glock in my upstairs bedroom ”precisely because they don’t like” that location.

Increasingly, over the last few decades, politicians and pundits have treated the exercise of certain rights as a zero-sum game: If “A” exercises some right, “B” must automatically shut up, nod his head and smile approvingly (I’m not suggesting this is Parker’s contention). As President Obama superfluously lectured last Friday, the backers of the Ground Zero mosque have the right to build it on that site. But “toleration” of that right doesn’t mean opponents must forfeit or holster their own First Amendment rights.

Peter Kirsanow — Peter N. Kirsanow is an attorney and a member of the United States Commission on Civil Rights.

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