Amidst all the controversy over the “Ground Zero Mosque,” the most neglected issue is the key question of property rights. The proprietors of the land where the Islamic cultural center is to be built are its rightful owners. In a free society, in a capitalistic country, people are allowed to do with their property as they see fit. When conservatives warn, with some justification, about America’s slide away from free enterprise, all the while waging an all-out war on private property rights in this case, they undermine their entire critique of the Obama administration.
Even moderate defenders of the cultural center caution that it is inflammatory and poorly conceived, since many will be offended. But is there a right not to be offended? Of course not. In a free country, there is plenty to cause offense, but that is a price of liberty. If liberty means anything, it is the legal tolerance of those who would act within their own voluntary sphere of behavior — on their own property, as they wish — as long as they don’t infringe forcibly on the rights of others.
I for one am quite offended when Newt Gingrich and his ilk compare this Muslim cultural center to a neo-Nazi construction project. I am not free to have the government shut my opponents down just because they offend me on this issue. They are free to speak their mind in their publications and through their organizations. And those who wish to build an Islamic cultural center on property that they legally own should be equally free to do so without government interference.
Of course, we should also keep in mind the great American tradition of religious tolerance and freedom. One of the main reasons America attracts people from around the world, and always has, is that this land allows the peaceful practice of all religions, regardless of whom they offend or the old-world sectarian conflicts from which our ancestors fled. By embarking on an imperialistic foreign policy, the U.S. government has created enemies and incited religious animosity that was not a problem for the United States when it minded its own business in foreign affairs. But Americans should stand strong and not let war hysteria destroy the principles of toleration and property rights that have for so long made this country unique.
This article originally appeared in the December 2010 edition of Freedom Daily.