Letting Government Be Neutral
Catching up on my reading, I highlighted the following, from First Thing editor Joseph Bottum’s thoughts on the Ground Zero mosque controversy:
Real democracy is messy. It’s got protestors and agitators and banners and manners and morals and financial pressures and gossip and policemen on horses keeping an eye out to make sure it doesn’t turn violent. Oh, yes, it’s also got government, but apart from paying for those policemen, government ought not to be too deeply involved as these things sort themselves out. If what the Muslims want to do is not illegal, than government should have nothing more to say.
That does not mean, however, that everyone else should also have nothing more to say. The attempt to build a large, new mosque and Islamic center anywhere near the site of the World Trade Center is so offensive, so bizarre, and so deliberate that it should be stopped.
And stopped it will be, through the offered mediation of New York’s Archbishop Dolan, or the skittishness of the financial community, or the disturbance of the neighbors, or the anger of the protestors, or the refusal of the building contractors. It will be messy, and it will be sharp. Inspiring and disturbing, with loud shouts on the streets and a few quiet words in the back rooms.
But that’s democracy—it’s how things get done when you accept that government shouldn’t do everything. The churches and the synagogues have long experience with this kind of democratic negotiation. Time for the mosques to learn how to do it, too.
It comes down to this: As the ostensibly neutral arbiter and the licit wielder of deadly force, the government should not determine what its principles (society’s principles) should be. That includes the mandate for “tolerance.” At lower levels of government, the people should be able to insert their principles into government as they see fit, but the moment government steps in to resolve disputes — as opposed to ensuring the conditions in which they can be resolved without violence — being unalterably tolerant of one perspective inherently requires being intolerant of perspectives that oppose it.
If the arbiter insists, even, that “hate” is inadmissible as justification, then his criteria are no longer objective; hatred is all too evident in the side with which one disagrees and too difficult to see among those who’ve reached the one’s own conclusion.