The U.S. Constitution, civics teachers like to say, is the defining document of who we are as a people. I would prefer to say that it’s the definition of the people we strive to be.
It’s when we tend to follow our natural herd instinct, rather than act like the inspired residents of the shining city on the hill, that we most need to refresh our memories as to the spirit behind our guiding charter. For the individual citizens of a nation to be truly free, the whole must be tolerant of, inclusive toward, and blind to differences between its parts. It’s right there in the establishment clause.
So if you’re the neighbor of a proposed mosque in West Boynton Beach, a mosque that is to be constructed on land that has been zoned specifically for a house of worship for years, it’s a little late to start complaining. You can’t suddenly decide that a mosque wasn’t what you had in mind, that you’d rather see a church or a temple next door to your development. The Constitution, basically, says, “Tough.”
The Founding Fathers never said it would be easy to be an exceptional nation. If it were, everybody would be exceptional. What makes us special is that we’re willing to subordinate our basest prejudices to the rule of law. Sometimes that notion sticks in our craw.
The harder it sticks, though, the more our chests can swell with pride that we’re acting like true-blue Americans, in the deepest sense of the word. In the end, it’s much more meaningful⎯and exceptional⎯than just standing around and waving the flag. Any nation can do that.