Fox News host and legal analyst Peter J. Johnson, Jr. says Muslims in New York should "give up their rights" and move the Park51 Islamic center in order to please opponents.
In a Friday commentary on Fox & Friends, Johnson visited the site of the proposed Islamic center. There he expressed his opinion that the First Amendment shouldn't be a factor in whether or not the proposed center is moved because "when we invoke our First Amendment as a sword, not a shield, it means we have lost sight of and broken faith with our national identity and strength."
Johnson illustrated his point by drawing a comparison with the Westboro Baptist Church, which is known for picketing soldiers' funerals. A federal judge in Missouri recently upheld their right to do on on First Amendment grounds.
"Do our courts encourage disrespect and instability among us," Johnson asked, "when they allow a so-called religious sect to protest at servicemen's funerals and hold signs that say, 'Thank God for Dead Soldiers?' And then say the First Amendment makes it all okay? How have we fallen so far so quickly?"
"I look for the day when this is no longer about politicians or pain or protest, but about neighbors becoming good neighbors," he went on. "Thank God and our founders for the First Amendment, but God help us if it all comes down to the need to rely upon it. ... Great Americans give up their rights to help those they share nothing else with but a love of this country."
Not every conservative is as respectful of First Amendment rights, even nominally, as Johnson. Jason Sager, a candidate for the 5th Congressional District in Florida who describes himself as a strict constitutionalist, told The Saint Petersburg Times that "there is nothing to preclude states and local authorities from determining what will or will not be built on their streets."
Reporter Dan DeWitt thought that "didn't sound right," so he called Florida State law professor and First Amendment authority Talbot "Sandy" D'Alemberte, who told him that Constitutional limits to federal authority "took a major hit in 1868, with the passage of the 14th Amendment, which says states can't deny U.S. citizens basic rights."
"To make the argument that the First Amendment doesn't apply to local governments," D'Alemberte said, "is quite beyond the bounds of all the scholarly thinking that I know of."
Sager responds that he can't get past the wording of the First Amendment, which states that Congress shall make no law concerning the free exercise of religion. No matter what the 14th Amendment says, he believes federal guarantees of rights do not apply to state and local governments.
This video is from Fox News' Fox & Friends, broadcast Aug. 20, 2010.