TESTING THE LIMITS OF A BOGUS RATIONALIZATION…. The right would have us believe that their hysterical opposition to the Cordoba House in lower Manhattan has nothing to do with religion or bigotry. A few will concede that they just hate certain religious minorities, but in general, high-profile conservatives know transparent bigotry doesn’t go over well, so they’ve rationalized their position.

With that in mind, let’s consider some hypothetical scenarios.

If Feisal Abdul Rauf wanted to build a coffee shop at Park51 in lower Manhattan, two blocks from Ground Zero, would anyone even think to care? Would it be the subject of an intense national debate? Would conspicuously unintelligent demagogues refer to it as the “9/11 coffee shop” and/or the “Ground Zero coffee shop“? Would there be an expectation that mainstream Muslim Americans “refudiate” the coffee shop out of sensitivity to the victims of 9/11?

These need not be rhetorical questions, and this isn’t intended as some kind of joke.

What if Rauf wanted an up-scale clothing store? Or a Barnes & Noble? Or a place for consumer electronics? Or a nightclub? Would it be the “9/11 nightclub” and/or the “Ground Zero nightclub”?

I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that no one would care. Local officials responsible for reviewing building plans and zoning regulations would consider the proposal and make a reasoned decision. It’d generate a blurb in the local section of some NYC dailies — if it even got that much attention.

But Feisal Abdul Rauf doesn’t want a coffee shop or a nightclub. He found a location that used to house a Burlington Coat Factory — not the Twin Towers — and he wants to build a community center. The building would include a restaurant, a performing arts center, a place for worship, and a swimming pool. You’ll notice that “terrorist training facility” is not included in the description.

For those who want to maintain the pretense that this isn’t about religious liberty or discriminating against a minority faith, it’s time for at least a shred of intellectual honesty. If the Cordoba House were to include a restaurant, a performing arts center, and a swimming pool — without a place for worship — would conservatives be so hysterical?

If the answer is “yes,” they’d be every bit as incensed, then it’s time to acknowledge that those who are whining incessantly about the community center would have to be just as outraged by the notion of Feisal Abdul Rauf’s coffee shop. These are folks who, by all appearances, wouldn’t want a Muslim American neighbor building anything in lower Manhattan, which is crazy, illegal, and at odds with how we do things in the United States.

If the answer is “no,” they wouldn’t be every bit as hysterical, and the inclusion of a place for prayer is what serves as a deal-breaker, then it’s time to acknowledge that this has everything to do with religious liberty, and a desire to deny First Amendment protections to faith groups the right holds in contempt.

Either way, there’s no excuse for such ugly nonsense.

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Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.