The television networks are already beginning to replay those horrifying images of jet aircraft crashing into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon last September 11. Even without viewing them again, most Americans have probably begun a sober reflection on what changes that day made for them and for the entire nation's character.
It is often noted that sometimes one can lose more from reacting poorly to a crisis than was lost when the crisis occurred. Within days of the attack, a few pundits and activists wondered if the very American freedoms that the terrorists loathed might be reduced by overreactions from American citizens and political leaders.
In a column I did last November, I described a particularly noxious example of this from Ringgold, Ga., where the city council had voted to display in the main entrance of the city building a framed Ten Commandments poster, a framed Lord's Prayer manuscript, and on the opposite wall, an empty picture frame for what sponsor Bill McMillon called "people who believe in nothing." (The council decided to print the words "in recognition of those with other faiths" to mute the national criticism of the "believe in nothing" remark.)
The mayor of Ringgold, Joe Barger, had referred to the empty frame as "for those we do not know who they are." McMillon compounded the arrogance when a reporter asked about the message Ringgold was sending to religious minorities, including Muslims. McMillon replied, "We don't have any of them here."
How "free" would you feel as a Muslim to be treated fairly if you applied to work as a teacher or firefighter in Ringgold?
The Ringgold story has the seeds of a happy ending, however. Last June, Americans United and the Georgia affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union sued to have the display removed. One of our plaintiffs chose to remain anonymous, fearful of his safety. The other plaintiff was a very vocal longtime resident, Thomas J. Odom.
Odom, a Vietnam veteran, had to look at the display every time he attended his Rotary Club meeting with other local businesspeople at city hall. His view, he told the Chattanooga Times Free-Press, "goes back to when I became an officer in the Army. I swore allegiance to defend the Constitution." Our local counsel for Odom, Georgia K. Lord, explained that her client felt the need to fight for our constitutional rights when his local officials decided to promote one religious tradition over others.
In mid August, the city council...