To say that you love America is not the same thing as saying that you love only those Americans who agree with you. Nor is it the same thing as saying you love the America inhabited by those of European descent.

What the modern conservative movement in the United States calls patriotism is not a love of the core tenets of American government, nor is it a love of the changing entity that is the United States. Instead, it is a political claim—a claim that their moral and religious rights are synonymous with patriotism.

The United States Government was founded on certain basic rights, as are guaranteed in the Constitution. Respect for these basic human rights is the critical aspect of one's patriotism. These rights remain mostly unchanged, while the United States itself has transformed over time in virtually every other respect.

These basic rights include the right to free speech, the right to elect our leaders through a fair democratic process, the right to habeas corpus, the right to believe (or not believe) in a god, and many others expressly given in the Constitution.

One must differente between what I will call "values," which change over time and are based upon the viewpoints of only some Americans, and "rights," which are the core tenets guaranteed in the Constitution of the United States. The modern American right constantly seeks to claim that values are more important than political rights. The clearest example of this is the recent debate over the building of a Muslim learning center roughly two blocks from the World Trade Center.

Sarah Palin, writing a few months ago on her Facebook page, argued: "No one is disputing that America stands for—and should stand for—religious tolerance. It is a foundation of our republic. This is not an issue of religious tolerance but of common moral sense." Here, she suggests that America "stands for" religious tolerance, but makes no mention of religious freedom.

Assuming (and this is a big assumption) that she means the same thing by 'tolerance' and 'freedom,' she then argues that we should use our "common moral sense" to deny these individuals their constitutional right to build a place of worship near Ground Zero (it is not at Ground Zero, it is two blocks away). She is suggesting that we deny individuals constitutional rights in the name of "common moral sense." Palin is willing to deny Constitutional rights to other Americans (and others entitled to those rights) to protect her values, and in doing so is willing to reject the core principles that make America the country that it is. To hold such a viewpoint is explicitly unpatriotic and un-American.

In his essay, "The Lion and the Unicorn," Orwell wrote regarding the principle of conservatism: "Patriotism has nothing to do with Conservatism. It is actually the opposite of Conservatism, since it is a devotion to something that is always changing and yet is felt to be mystically the same."

Yet, in their constant assault on the left, right-wing movements in the United States today have used patriotism as their banner. It is impossible to go even 10 minutes listening to any right-wing persona without hearing them proclaim their heartfelt love for America.

While the conservative movement often assaults the left for their lack of patriotism, I believe it is time to challenge their constant proclamations of patriotism. Orwell's claim about the state of politics in England is applicable to the modern American conservative movement, led by figureheads such as Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, among others.

A true patriot must protect the rights of all persons who reside in the United States, including the rights of those who seek to build a mosque in New York City. The freedom of religious worship must be protected at all costs, no matter how the values or morals of Americans change or shift.

If an atheist (or a Muslim) were to be elected President, would the conservative movements in the United States suggest that that individual was unpatriotic? Would these individuals sacrifice certain rights—such as freedom of religion—to make sure that the American government upheld their religious values? If the answer is yes, then that individual is not a patriot. Such an argument is to say that you do not believe in the rights of Americans and are willing to sacrifice America for the sake of a political or religious viewpoint.

Ultimately, if the Conservative movements of the United States are to call themselves patriotic, they must truly endorse the belief that constitutional rights are greater than their self-proclaimed values. Lip service to these constitutional values is not enough. To argue that Muslims do not have the right to build a mosque in New York City is to deny American citizens fundamental rights. This is not patriotism; it is but a bitter manifestation of McCarthyism, only instead of the Reds, we are afraid of the Islamic terrorists.

As Orwell wrote: "What have you in common with the child of five whose photograph your mother keeps on the mantelpiece? Nothing, except that you happen to be the same person."

Constitutional rights, which are by design very difficult to take away or change (at least legally), are what unites the America of 1800 with the America of 2000.

Changes have been made—the freedoms that were originally granted to only a portion of the population have now been made universal, yet these changes generally reflect an expansion of rights, rather than a reduction of rights.

A belief in constitutional civil liberties, combined with the right of self-governance of the United States, is what makes one a true patriot. It has nothing to do with one's views on abortion, or religion, or wars, or foreign policy or taxation. Movements on the left and on the right may dissent, they may disagree and argue strongly on every issue, but if they are to claim their own patriotism, they must not make any further effort to stop the fundamental constitutional rights of individuals in the name of protecting their religious or political values.

Sean McElroy is a member of the Class of 2012.