This afternoon, the “yes, the Constitution grants freedom of religion, but this time you’d better not use it” argument has gained its newest, and most disappointing, adherent.
Under pressure from his ultra right-wing opponent in the Nevada senate race, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid paid lip service to the First Amendment while stating his opposition to the building of a Muslim community center a few blocks from Ground Zero in lower Manhattan:
"The First Amendment protects freedom of religion," Reid spokesman Jim Manley said in a statement. "Sen. Reid respects that but thinks that the mosque should be built someplace else."
Reid is the most senior Democrat to come out in opposition to the mosque.
It perhaps shouldn’t come as a surprise that hoards of Republican elected officials who live far from New York have come out against what the Right Wing has branded the “Ground Zero Mosque.” It was, after all, Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich who turned what was a New York City zoning issue into a national fit of misinformed intolerance.
But it’s deeply disappointing to realize we’ve reached the point where the most powerful Democrat in the Senate is parroting Right Wing talking points at the expense of defending basic American values and constitutional rights.
The Right’s extremist machine has tried to make intolerance and xenophobia a noisy election year issue. When someone like Reid gives them cover for their cynical ploy, they begin to succeed.