Time to Do the Right Thing

I am standing at the site of the proposed mosque and community center about 500 feet from Ground Zero. I lost many friends here.

As a lawyer, I represent retired firefighters who suffer deadly illnesses as a result of the rescue and search operations for their sons who perished. For some, including the president, this has become about civil rights the First Amendment.

But it is not really about the First Amendment. It is about Americans respecting other Americans; about neighbors comforting neighbors; about being sensitive to the loss of a horrific act of war, which still hurts almost nine years later.

We are proud that we are one of the few countries in the world which allows the free exercise of religion. But, when we resort to legalisms instead of common sense or compassion, 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. But as united as we were as a people on 9/11, we are just as divided today.

Some have forgotten the essential principle of our nation's endurance. That when it comes to our national interest, we are neither Christians, nor Jews, nor Muslims. We are Americans first who make sacrifices for each other.

But our common bond seems to be exploding. Why?

Has the notion of we been replaced by me? Does the culture war continue at Ground Zero? Do our courts encourage, disrespect and incivility amongst us when they allow a so-called religious sect to protest at servicemen's funerals, holding signs that say, "Thank God for dead soldiers?" and then say the First Amendment makes it all OK?

How have we fallen so far, so quickly?

The developer of this mosque promises to build bridges, yet reportedly announced that its ground breaking would take place on September 11, 2011. When questions are asked about this site as to whether it is to be a reminder of Islamic triumphalism or supremacy, no assurances are given except to deny that Hamas is a terrorist organization and refuse to deny that this community center will accept funding from our implacable enemy, the nation of Iran.

Here, the president has sided with the wrong group of victims, Speaker Pelosi promises investigations of 9/11 families and many more Americans lose confidence. Yet Archbishop Timothy Dolan has offered a leadership role to resolve this crisis. He understands the importance of faith and the inalienable right to worship. But also the concept of right idea, wrong address.

I look for the day when this is no longer about politicians or pain or protest, but about neighbors becoming good neighbors. 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. Before some claim a right, our unique American obligation to do right means recognizing the pain of thousand of Americans whose loss is worthy of our deference. Any American can assert a right. Great Americans give up their rights to help those they share nothing else with but a love of this country.

Peter J. Johnson, Jr., has served as a legal analyst for the Fox News Channel since 1997