Hugh Hewitt: Protecting our sacred spaces is constitutional 

What do the battlefields surrounding Manassas, Antietam, Gettysburg and Valley Forge all have in common?

They are all protected from exploitative use by various combinations of state, local and federal government laws and regulations buttressed by preservation activists.

Residents of Northern Virginia know that a series of land-use controversies against various entities that wanted to build too close to the site of the battles of Bull Run extend back to the 1980s and include such major proponents of development as Disney.

Preservationists dedicated to honoring the dead at Gettysburg have fought off casino interests.

Even a museum was successfully encouraged to move away from the perimeter of Valley Forge last year.

The protection of America’s sacred spaces from exploitative uses has been much admired during the past 30 years.

But, not now in New York City. Opponents of a mosque near ground zero have been branded as bigots and their concerns about the project have been dismissed as unconstitutional assaults on the guarantee of the free exercise of religion.

Led by an increasingly shrill Mayor Michael Bloomberg, opinion elites have ridiculed the idea that ground zero and its immediate environs ought to be free from “message projects,” whether a mosque, a cathedral or any sort of new endeavor intended to use the hallowed ground as a slingshot for a particular message. Even if you accept the best explanations of the imam behind the mosque proposal, his intent is clearly to use proximity to ground zero to catapult a particular mosque to international status. Once built, of course, no house of worship may be regulated as to what is said or prayed from within its walls, just as no billboard can be regulated as to its content.

On Friday, Bloomberg stitched together the mother of all straw-man arguments when he took on the subject of where the funds for the mosque would come from. (The concern, of course, is that they will flow from extremist elements within extreme slices of Islam.)

“People say, ‘Well, do they have the money? Can they raise the money? Where does it come from?’” Bloomberg said. “I don’t know. And government shouldn’t — do you really want every time they pass the basket in your church and you throw a buck in, they run over and say, ‘OK, now where do you come from, who are your parents, where did you get this money?’ No.

“People ought to be ashamed of themselves.”

The people who ought to be ashamed are those who taught the mayor logic. To move from a specific inquiry about a specific project’s specific source of funding to the “every time they pass the basket” nonsense is a giveaway that the mayor knows he cannot engage in a serious conversation about the mosque because a serious inspection of his views will undo his preening, self-righteous vanity.

It’s a certainty that many among the overwhelming majorities that oppose the mosque would gladly write a check to the building fund of a mosque at a different location in Manhattan, a location not chosen to exploit the fact that an attack on America took place where the mosque was built.

Those same overwhelming majorities would oppose a Roman Catholic cathedral on the same site, or a Walmart outside Antietam, a theme park next to Manassas, a tax-generating mega-casino up against Devil’s Den or even a new university adjacent to scene of the Colonial Army’s longest winter.

Saving America’s sacred spaces from those who would exploit them for gain of any sort is not only constitutional, it has always been the side of the angels.

It still is.

Examiner columnist Hugh Hewitt is a law professor at Chapman University Law School and a nationally syndicated radio talk show host who blogs daily at www.hughhewitt.com.

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