Via Radley Balko, I see that a rally against a mosque being built a few blocks from Ground Zero in lower Manhattan turned ugly when bigoted protesters began shouting at two men they took to be Muslims.

Mike Kelly, a columnist at the North Jersey Record, describes the scene:

At one point, a portion of the crowd menacingly surrounded two Egyptian men who were speaking Arabic and were thought to be Muslims.

"Go home," several shouted from the crowd.

"Get out," others shouted.

In fact, the two men - Joseph Nassralla and Karam El Masry -- were not Muslims at all. They turned out to be Egyptian Coptic Christians who work for a California-based Christian satellite TV station called "The Way." Both said they had come to protest the mosque.

"I'm a Christian," Nassralla shouted to the crowd, his eyes bulging and beads of sweat rolling down his face.

But it was no use. The protesters had become so angry at what they thought were Muslims that New York City police officers had to rush in and pull Nassralla and El Masry to safety.

"I flew nine hours in an airplane to come here," a frustrated Nassralla said afterward.

Of course, this would be reprehensible even if the men had turned out to be Muslims. And protests aside, the larger objection to building a mosque a few blocks away from Ground Zero is irrational and incompatible with core American values: freedom of religion, freedom of assembly, and the right to pursue happiness.

The protesters trying to stop this mosque from being built are basically asking the government to prohibit the construction of a building on private property on the grounds that the folks who plan to occupy it belong to a controversial religious group. The fact that the September 11 terrorist attacks were perpetrated by radicalized Islamist terrorists may change the emotional content of the dispute, but it cannot transform the fundamental principles that are ultimately involved.