"Sanction" is one of those words — like "cited" or "sanguine" — that can mean opposite things. This can be confusing.
"The bus driver received a citation from the city" might mean she was ticketed — punished — for a traffic violation. Or it might mean she was rewarded and commended for excellence. In the 1980s, South Africa was under sanctions due to Apartheid. After that system was lifted, the sanctions were removed and trade with South Africa was once again sanctioned.
This sort of ambiguity might account for some of the confusion displayed by those pretending to be offended by the opening of another Muslim community center in Lower Manhattan.
"To bigotry no sanction," President George Washington said. But what does that mean? It might mean that America does not permit or condone religious bigotry. Or it might mean that America does not prohibit or punish such bigotry.
As with the hypothetical bus driver above, we need to know more of the context to know which meaning of "sanction" Washington intended. Fortunately in this case, the first president provided that context. Placed in that context, Washington's statement leaves no room for ambiguity or confusion as to what he meant:
The Citizens of the United States of America
have a right to applaud themselves for giving to mankind examples
of an enlarged and liberal policy: a policy worthy of imitation.
All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of
citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if
it was by the indulgence of one class of people that another
enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily
the government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no
sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who
live under its protection, should demean themselves as good
We can't find any ambiguity or confusion in what the second president had to say on this point either. In 1797, John Adams affixed his signature to the Treaty of Tripoli, giving these words the force of law:
Adams was succeeded by Thomas Jefferson, who said:
As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense
founded on the Christian Religion, as it has in itself no character of
enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen, and as
the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility
against any Mehomitan nation, it is declared by the parties that no
pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an
interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.
The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are
injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say
there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks
And the president who followed him was James Madison, architect of the Bill of Rights, another unambiguous statement that begins with these words:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof …
Anyone who finds any of that confusing is simply confused. This is not ambiguous or — to use the favorite weasel word of timid journalists "objectively" fearful of taking sides alongside the facts — "controversial."
There is no legitimate controversy here. There is no basis in law, principle, doctrine or morality for opposition to the free exercise of religion by Islamic Americans. And their proximity to the Temple of Mammon on Wall Street doesn't change that.
The opponents of this congregation cannot argue against them without also arguing against the principle repeated four times above. And they can find no argument against that principle. So they resort to what Americans always resort to when unable to present or articulate a valid, reasonable argument: they pretend to be offended.
To be blunt, I do not believe that any of the people objecting to this Islamic center are being honest. I do not believe that these are good people or that they are acting in good faith. I think this is a pose, a bit of posturing, a false claim of offendedness. Their pretense of indignation over something that, in fact, neither picks their pocket nor breaks their leg, is not believable. And so I do not believe them.
If anyone can locate an actual argument, made in good faith, for why this particular congregation should be denied its rights, then I will be happy to engage that argument. But I haven't yet heard such an argument. Have you?