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HOLLOWED HALLS

A home video shows the flock of young people, hands over hearts, singing an impromptu version of “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the Lincoln Memorial on a recent summer’s night. It is poignant, and this group — guests of Young America’s Foundation (YAF) — knew all the words. Though hallowed setting and patriotic song seem like a natural and appropriate combination, the group was quickly hushed by a nearby security officer, its members say. The earnest teenagers, apparently, were in violation of federal law; their tune was considered a “demonstration” in an area of the monument considered “content neutral” in deference to other visitors — and thus, public activities are restricted.

Or something like that.

“It was surprising that the National Park Service was suggesting to us that Abraham Lincoln would have wanted it that way, that he would approve of the ‘content neutral’ idea, and wouldn’t approve of students singing the anthem there,” YAF spokesman Evan Gassman tells Inside the Beltway. “That was very off-putting. But more so, it was disappointing to these young students, some who were in Washington for the first time, being told they could not sing the national anthem at one of the most moving national memorials in this city.”

The organization, which promotes traditional conservative values among the college-aged, has posted the telling video. See it at www.yaf.org.

ALTERNATIVE SITE

The “ground zero” mosque is political and cultural battleground. And theater, too. In a flamboyant strike against the proposed $100 million Islamic facility within two blocks of the 9/11 attack site in New York City, Fox News’ “Red Eye” host GregGutfeld has come up with his own building project.

“As an American, I believe they have every right to build the mosque. After all, if they buy the land and they follow the law — who can stop them? Which is, why, in the spirit of outreach, I’ve decided to do the same thing,” Mr. Gutfeld says. “I am planning to build and open the first gay bar that caters not only to the west, but also Islamic gay men. To best express my sincere desire for dialogue, the bar will be situated next to the mosque ‘Park 51,’ in an available commercial space. This is not a joke.”

Mr. Gutfeld says he has investors poised to support his “bipartisan bid for understanding and tolerance. … As you know, the Muslim faith doesn’t look kindly upon homosexuality, which is why I’m building this bar. It is an effort to break down barriers and reduce deadly homophobia in the Islamic world.”

A new Marist poll finds that 53 percent of Americans overall oppose the mosque project, which got clearance last week from a city landmarks agency to proceed and has the blessings of New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. The poll also revealed that Mr. Bloomberg’s approval rating has fallen to 49 percent, the lowest in five years.

“Republicans are expressing the most dissatisfaction with the new structure. Seventy-four percent oppose building a cultural center which includes a place of worship,” says poll director Lee Miringoff. “Half of Democrats and 52 percent of non-enrolled voters think the mosque should not be erected.”

The American Center for Law and Justice, which has already filed a lawsuit to block the mosque, is now calling on the State Department to remove the project’s chief organizer Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf from a taxpayer-funded good will trip to the Middle East. The center, which deemed the trip “absurd,” is responding to some critics who fear that the cleric could use the trip to raise funds for the Islamic center.

POCKET CHANGE

Amid the mayhem, a little good news. The U.S. Census Bureau is returning $1.6 billion in operational savings to federal coffers because “the American people stepped up,” says Census Bureau director Robert Groves, who reports that 72 percent of households mailed the questionnaire back, thus bypassing the need to send workers out on follow-up. The agency also did not tap into contingency funding set aside for disasters or operational breakdowns, and employee efficiency was also up.

Hurray. Way to go.

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