This past week President Obama expressed support for those seeking to build a mosque near ground zero. He said that Muslims "have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country." In other words, it is a matter of religious tolerance.
Earlier in the week another supporter of the project, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, focused on a different aspect of the controversy. “If somebody wants to build a mosque in a place where it’s zoned for it and they can raise the money, then they can do that,” he said. “And it’s not the government’s business.”
The Mayor introduced the element of property rights into how we view the situation. After all, a community could say "yes we support your right to worship as you see fit, but why not do it a few blocks from here.” In fact, Governor Patterson suggested as much when he offered his help in finding an alternative site. The promoters of the mosque have not publicly responded. The owners of the property where the mosque is to be built are standing not just on the right to worship but on the right to use their property as they see fit.
The tie between private property and the First Amendment -- which also guarantees the rights to freedom of speech and association -- is fundamental. A newspaper owner has the right to say what he wants in his publication. The editor in chief does not. She can be fired.
After the enactment of the post Watergate federal campaign finance regulation system, the Supreme Court struck down restrictions on what a person can spend on his own campaign. The same decision reiterated what had long been the law -- the First Amendment does not guarantee that all voices will be heard equally.
Likewise, America claims to stand for equal opportunity. Not equality. Will equal opportunity lead to equality? Unlikely. Has the promise of equal opportunity been fulfilled? Not yet.