Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Needle in the Haystack

In a follow-up to a previous post on airport security measures (, I'd like to share another anecdote:

Three weeks ago, my wife and I met a friend and his nine year-old son in St. Louis to go to a Cardinals game. My friend has taken his son to several different major league baseball parks and buys him one of those small souvenir bats at every ball park. Our flights home left at about the same time, so we all went to the airport together. Because it was only a weekend trip, none of us had checked bags. As our carry-on bags are being x-rayed, the TSA agent decides that the long cylindrical object in my friend's bag (the souvenir bat) could be a weapon and can't go on the plane. My friend is told he must go check that bag before coming through security. His son passed through and waited for him with my wife and I.

After several minutes, he returned with the bag. They did an open bag search just before checking it (a different TSA agent) and found nothing suspicious. They found nothing, because the bat was in his son's bag and after x-raying the bags, the TSA agent picked up the wrong one for him to check and handed the bag with the "suspicious object" back to his son and let him through the security checkpoint!

The story is absurd on two levels. First, the notion that a nine year-old boy can't take a small souvenir bat in a carry on bag is absurd (and would be eliminated by screening for terrorists instead of for weapons). Secondly, even if the object in question had been a weapon, the TSA agent subsequently handed the bag with the "weapon" back to be carried through security and pulled the wrong bag to be checked. If you thought the TSA was making you safer, think again.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

President Obama is Right, For Once.

Today is the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks and the news is filled with the "controversy" of plans to build a mosque and Islamic center in Manhattan close to Ground Zero.

There should be no controversy here. The land in question is privately owned. The first amendment protects the right of citizens of all faiths to worship freely. The Muslims planning to build this mosque are exercising one of the most fundamental human rights, a right that our nation cherishes and our Constitution protects. No one should be trying to interfere with their plans and no level of government has the authority to.

It is understandable that some, particularly those that lost loved ones on that black day nine years ago, are upset. It is easy to understand how a mosque close to the site where thousands lost their lives at the hands of Muslims that claimed to carry out Allah's will open old wounds. However, it is critically important that we overlook these concerns and uphold our cherished principle of religious freedom, lest we sink to the level of intolerance of those that perpetrated this attack and sacrifice some of the liberty we ask our brave soldiers to defend. On March 5, 1770, British troops opened fire on unarmed Americans in Boston. Whether they were provoked or not (and they probably were) is beside the point. Americans were outraged. Yet, these British soldiers were successfully defended by no less an American Patriot than John Adams. From the dawn of our nation we have shown that we cherish our principles of liberty more than our emotional desires. In that spirit, British soldiers who fired on Americans were given the trial and defense to which they were entitled. It should be no different with the building of this mosque, recognizing that the Muslims who will worship there had nothing to do with the attacks nearby nine years ago. Al Qaida is no more representative of Islam than the I.R.A. is of Catholicism....

President Obama is right to defend the Constitutionally protected right of free worship of the Muslims building this mosque. He is right to say that the 1st amendment means, "if you can build a church there, if you can build a synagogue there, if you can build a Hindu temple there, then you can build a mosque..." Mr. Obama should be applauded for defending this Constitutional principle despite the unpopularity of doing so. He has alluded to the notion perhaps this site is not the best choice for a mosque nor where he would choose to build a mosque because of the passions it inflames. However, he is right to largely avoid statements of whether or not he thinks a mosque should be built there or not. It is frankly irrelevant what the President or anyone else thinks should be done.

Finally, there is no moral equivalence between the building of this mosque and Terry Jones' plan to publicly burn copies of the Koran (which may or may not happen today?). Granted that the copies of the Koran are privately owned and the 1st amendment protects Mr. Jones freedom of speech and expression in burning them, however this act is far more deliberately offensive than the building of a house of worship to the same God of Abraham worshiped by Christians and Jews. Mr. Jones plan may be protected, but it is simply spiteful and shallow. In a nation that protects religious freedom, it matters not that Mr. Jones is fervently convinced that the Koran is "full of lies." As Mr. Jefferson wrote in the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom [1777], " restrain the propagation of principles on the supposition of their ill tendency is a grave and dangerous fallacy, which at once destroys all religious liberty.... Truth is great and will triumph if left to herself."

Christians secure in their faith have nothing to fear from the Koran and Americans have nothing to fear from a mosque in Manhattan. We have everything to fear from becoming a nation that would seek to block the building of a house of worship of any particular faith.