This is the original draft of The Beacon’s Editorial published on Oct.3
Co-author: D. Jefferson Bean
They came first for the Communists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for me
and by that time no one was left to speak up.
— Martin Niemöller
Human life can end in the blink of an eye, but liberty dies incrementally. Although conservatives and libertarians often claim — and rightly so — that “big government” is inimical to freedom, state and even municipal governments are just as capable of trampling our rights.
On Monday, Sept. 27, the Alpharetta City Council unanimously approved a new design submitted by Pastor Korey Jones of the Founding Faith Worship Center, and the expansion of the facility. Fewer than a dozen people, many of them members of Jones’s congregation, attended the meeting. No one protested the expansion. Four months ago, the Islamic Center of North Fulton made a similar request before a capacity crowd — and with markedly different results.
Having purchased an adjacent 1.12 acre lot, the ICNF petitioned to expand to 13,942 square feet. The request was denied, despite the fact that its congregation had grown from 25 members to 600. They remained limited to “596.7 gross square feet per acre…or a total gross floor area of 2,524 square feet, whichever is less.” In comparison, the Founding Faith Worship Center redesigned its facility and petitioned for 14,720 square feet on a comparably sized parcel — without opposition.
We Americans often tout multiculturalism, but do we mean it? Are we less comfortable with its challenges and paradoxes than were our forebears? Perhaps we are.
WE ARE AMERICANS
During the Seventeenth and Eighteenth centuries, most American colonists were of British and/or Irish stock. Whether Puritan, Quaker, Wesleyan, Catholic or Presbyterian; most had endured religious persecution, as had their less numerous Dutch Reformed, Mennonite and Huguenot neighbors: Varied backgrounds, but common experiences.
Jamestown was founded in 1607, and Plymouth in 1620; at the height of Britain’s Jacobean-era religious turmoil. By 1776, the colonists had witnessed the Gunpowder Plot, the Covenanters’ excesses, Cromwell’s Roundheads, the Penal Statutes in Ireland, Hapsburg repression in the Low Countries, and the Thirty Years War in Central Europe. Knowing the hazards of established, state-sponsored religions, our founders wisely amended the Constitution with the Bill of Rights.
As the United States grew, immigrants came from farther afield — and for different reasons. The “New Americans” often sought economic and political freedom rather than religious liberty, while the “Old Americans” took it for granted. Consequently, the lessons of history were lost or forgotten: “Out of sight, out of mind.” Suggesting that religious bigotry ever disappeared would be ridiculous — but by World War II, ours was one of the few countries in which Catholic and Protestant, Christian and Jew could coexist without sectarian violence. It was a momentous accomplishment, in which we should still take pride. Assimilation had conquered parochialism, and whatever our faiths, we were all Americans.
A CHANGED LANDSCAPE
Immigration continues, but the cultural landscape has changed. Today’s newcomers are as likely to be Taoist, Hindu, Buddhist or Muslim as Christian or Jewish; but upon attaining citizenship, they become Americans. The Muslims who stood before the Alpharetta City Council four months ago were no less American than the Christians who attended Monday’s meeting, and entitled the same rights.
Contrary to alarmist rhetoric, nothing changed on 9-11: the changes came afterward. Before the attack, we considered all Americans equal before the law; and our rights unalienable and God-given. In theory — if not always in practice — we held principle over preference, and chose rule of law over the rule of men. If we abandon this and accept any government’s right to interfere with religious institutions (whether directly or obliquely), we negate the concept of rights.
SELF-DEFENSE IS A WAR IN MICROCOSM
“Divide and conquer” is every aspiring tyrant’s pet strategy because It works every time. By pitting different races, ethnicities and creeds against each other, enemies of freedom nurture a culture of fear, in which the threat of the “other” (often an unpopular minority) justifies progressive tyranny. One mosque in a small, Southern town may not seem like much of a battlefield, but preserving freedom is an endless struggle. Bradley Steiner once opined, “Self-defense is war in microcosm”; and is anything more worthy of defending than self-determination?
Should we allow any government — federal, state or municipal — to side-step the First and Tenth Amendments of our Constitution? Should we abandon principle for preference and imperil our own rights — blindly trusting that it won’t be our turn someday?
Today, those in power wield it at whim — not only nationally, but locally as well. Our liberties are eroding one by one. Do we band together to keep these freedoms, or do we fight amongst ourselves because we don’t like who they are, what they do, and where they came from? Do we fight “the good fight” — or petty skirmishes, in which we destroy our own freedom a little at a time?