REID CAVES TO PRESSURE ON CORDOBA HOUSE…. When President Obama bucked public opinion and delivered a strong endorsement of the First Amendment on Friday night, it took the dispute over the Cordoba House proposal to a new level. There was no political upside for the president — conservatives only celebrate constitutional principles when they approve of those being protected — which made it all the more admirable when he did the right thing.

It’s safe to say the president’s party was less impressed. While Democratic candidates, already worried about public attitudes less than three months before the midterm elections, could push off the controversy by dismissing it as a “local matter,” Obama’s remarks made dodging more difficult. Instead of reporters asking whether they support allowing Americans to build a community center in lower Manhattan, now reporters are asking whether they agree with the president.

In the case of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), he doesn’t.

Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid is breaking ranks with President Obama over the issue of the proposed construction of a controversial Islamic center and mosque just blocks away from Ground Zero.

“The First Amendment protects freedom of religion,” spokesman Jim Manley said in a statement. “Sen. Reid respects that but thinks that the mosque should be built some place [sic] else. If the Republicans are being sincere, they would help us pass this long overdue bill to help the first responders whose health and livelihoods have been devastated because of their bravery on 911, rather than continuing to block this much-needed legislation.”

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised — courageous stands are rarely rewarded by voters in competitive contests — but it’s nevertheless disappointing to see Reid make the wrong call. It’s disappointing because I’m all but certain Reid doesn’t actually believe this. As a member of a religious minority himself, Reid knows better. He has to.

Indeed, notice that Reid’s statement made no effort to explain why the former Burlington Coat Factory store is an inappropriate location for a community center, or how many blocks away from Ground Zero would be satisfactory. There’s a very good reason for that — the stand against religious liberty for Muslim Americans may be popular, but it’s very hard to defend.

It’s worth emphasizing that Reid agrees that the First Amendment “protects freedom of religion.” This matters to the extent that the statement effectively concedes the legal reality — like it or not, the law is the law, and the religious rights of Americans are still protected. In other words, Reid is effectively saying, “They can build the community center, but they shouldn’t.”

In a case like this, the concession doesn’t amount to much. Reid is still wrong.

As is usually the case, Republicans responded to Reid’s effort to prevent political attacks by attacking him anyway. If he was going to get slammed either way, Reid probably should have just done the right thing and stood up for the American values he knows are worth fighting for.

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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.