Religious Tolerance:
We Still Have a Long Way To Go


It has long been the American habit to be more suspicious of and more repressive toward religions that stand outside of the mainline Protestant-Roman Catholic-Jewish troika that dominates America's spiritual life. . . .

Stephen Carter
The Culture of Disbelief: How American Law and Politics Trivialize Religious Devotion

Let us not be blind to our differences but let us also direct attention to our common interests and to the means by which those differences can be resolved. If we cannot end our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity.

John F. Kennedy

Even in the United States (known worldwide for its religious freedom, pluralism, and tolerance), there is still sometimes a vast difference between religious freedom, pluralism, and tolerance on paper and in practice. And those differences can be amplified in times of national crisis (like post-9/11 in the United States).

Many of us tend to believe that, in this 21st century, particularly in places such as the United States and Europe, prejudice has been largely eliminated, educated out of our western culture, and socially kept that way through "political correctness". Here in the United States, we look back with pride at the women's suffragette movement, the civil rights movement, the feminist movement, and the gay rights movement. These days, a "Caucasian white" person would not dare use "nigger" as a derogatory term toward a person of color; and no man would dare pat a woman's rear end in the workplace.

But all is not quiet on the Western front. Things are not as rosy as we would like to believe, even in the areas where we think we've made the most progress. Consider the following:

  • June, 1998. In a racially motivated hate crime, three white men chained James Byrd Jr. to the back of a pickup truck in Jaspar, Texas, and dragged him to his death.

  • June, 2003. A movement led by President Bush and others to eliminate affirmative action (in the belief that is no longer necessary these days, and that merit alone should suffice) in the University of Michigan's admissions program was struck down by the Supreme Court.

  • October, 2003. Similarly, in California, voters rejected a proposition that would have prohibited law enforcement and other agencies from collecting any data that might demonstrate that discrimination was occurring. The proposition's proponents argued that they were trying to assist the creation of a "color-blind" society. But both the voters' decision here and the Supreme Court's decision (see the last item) are suggestive of the following point: until the society actually is color blind, affirmative action laws, etc. are still needed. The argument that eliminating affirmative action laws causes people to not be color blind is simply fallacious.

  • June, 2003. A Supreme Court decision resulted in the repeal of the remaining anti-sodomy laws (in 13 states). Same sex marriage, however, is still only legal in Vermont.

  • November, 2004. In the general elections, thirteen states passed constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage.

  • December, 2006. The "Jena 6" incident: a group of six black teenagers were charged with the beating of Justin Barker, a white teenager at Jena High School in Jena, Louisiana. The beating followed a number of incidents in the town, of which the earliest that has been reported was when three white students hung nooses from a tree at Jena High School, after a black student asked permission from a school administrator to sit under the tree.

Discrimination against religious minorities

It therefore should not be all that surprising to discover other "backwater" areas, in which prejudice and discrimination are as blatant as if the various civil and social rights movements had never occurred. And discrimation against religious minorities particularly as perpetrated through the "cult" myth is one of the most notorious and enduring "backwaters".

Michael Wolfe   From a Western Minaret: How Does It Feel?
Diana Eck
  True Liberty Cherishes Difference



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