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Religious Tolerance logo

Thought provoking questions that
we have received, with our responses

Part 11:

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This topic continues from the previous essay

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Interesting Emails discussed in this essay:

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Your site is a fraud; you lie about creation science:

Incoming Email: Your site is a fraud, it is not a creation science site. you are liers and deceivers. And you call yourselves Christians.

Our response: I am guessing that you are a conservative Christian who believes in one of the literal interpretations of Genesis. You probably believe in a young earth, and in creation science. Fine. We will work tirelessly to preserve your ability to hold and explain these beliefs.

Our site is not a fraud because we do not claim anywhere to support creation science. We don't claim to support the hundreds of other options including:

bullet The hundreds of creation stories told by many non-Christian religions worldwide.

bullet The theory of evolution.

We merely explain the great diversity of opinion on origins, and explain in depth the four main theories of origin:

bullet Young earth and creation science

bullet Old earth and creation science

bullet Theistic evolution

bullet Naturalistic evolution.

We are not liars and deceivers -- at least not intentionally. Significant errors do creep into our essays, but when we find mistakes, we correct them and describe the error in our errata page. It is very unusual on the Internet for web sites to admit errors and publish them on an errata list.

We do describe all sides of each topic as accurately as we can. This means that we describe beliefs that are different from your own. You may consider webmasters who support old earth creation science, theistic evolution and naturalistic evolution to be liars. But our experience has been that they are all sincere individuals who honestly believe what they write. They attempt to explain their belief system and do not try to deceive their visitors. On the other hand, we have found some deceit among some young-earth, creation science supporters.

If we called ourselves Christians, then we would indeed be lying. But we don't. We are a multi-faith group consisting of one Agnostic, Atheist, Christian, Wiccan and Zen Buddhist.

In summary, we would ask you to explore the possibility that people who think differently from you may well be sincere in their beliefs.

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Religious tolerance is evil.

Incoming Email: "Yeah there is [an]...error all right, and thats [sic] with your absurd way of thinking. This anything goes attitude towards religion and the world. Its not low tolerance that makes the world a bad place, its people like you who want to have a anything goes atmosphere and then complain when other people have a true conviction and  know not to accept idols,  demons, and sinful pagan ways of untrue and un biblical [sic] religions....your site is a farse [sic] to anyone who knows God for who he really is....You probably never will read this anyway, so ["f" word deleted] you too!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Amen!!!!!!!!!!!!! Jesus saves!"

Our response: Your Email contains a lot of anger. A lot of it is based on a misunderstanding over the meaning of the phrase "religious tolerance." Conservative Christians tend to define it differently from everyone else. This type of conflict is common with many religious terms. It makes religious dialogue very difficult to achieve.

bullet On our site, the term "religious tolerance" means to not discriminate or oppress other people because of their religion. If I were a Hindu, I would be religiously tolerant if I treat people of other religions -- Christians, Muslims, Jews, etc. -- decently. I would not oppress them or discriminate against them. The Golden Rule requires Christians to be tolerant, in this sense. Almost all other religions have similar rules, which theologians call Ethics of Reciprocity.

bullet I suspect that you define religious tolerance to be a synonym for the term "religious pluralism" -- the belief that all religions are equally valid and are all "true" when interpreted within their own culture.

bullet Finally, I suspect that you have taken an exclusive position towards your religion. That is, you believe that conservative Christianity is the only true religion. You reject all other religions as untrue -- perhaps even Satanic in origin.

These two definitions of "religious tolerance" are essentially unrelated.

bullet

Our definition involves treating persons who follow other religions with respect even though we may consider their beliefs to be incorrect. It grants them freedom of religious belief, speech, assembly, proselytizing, etc.


bullet Your definition of religious tolerance would require that people accept the teachings of other religions to be true.

These two definitions generate a lot of hate E-mails to us from religious conservatives, and the occasional death threat.

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Posting a church notice in a public school classroom:

Incoming Email: "I need some help on the Equal Access law. I have mounted a poster about my church's Easter drama on my public school classroom wall. Another teacher told me this is illegal."

Our response: Interesting question. But what you have done is unrelated to the Equal Access law.

A main reason why the U.S. has enjoyed an absence of religious wars, mass murders and genocides, even though it has been described as the most religiously diverse country in the world, is that it enforces a separation of church and state. The Supreme Court derived the principle from the First Amendment of the Constitution. It requires governments (and public schools) to avoid three things:

  1. Promoting one religion over another.

  2. Promoting a religious lifestyle as superior to a secular lifestyle.

  3. Promoting a secular lifestyle over a religious lifestyle.

Your poster about your church's Easter drama is quite legal in a shopping center, church, poll hall, etc. However, in a public school, it violates:

  • Item 1 because you are promoting Christianity over other religions like Judaism, Islam, Wicca, etc.

  • Item 2 because you would be promoting religion over a secular lifestyle.

However, according to a number of court cases regarding the Ten Commandments, one way in which you could display your poster might be to post it as one item in a collection of similar posters regarding special days of significance during springtime. For example, you could place a poster describing the Wiccan celebration of one of their eight Sabbats, the Vernal Equinox on (typically) March 21. This is sometimes called Alban Eilir, Eostar, Eostre, Lady Day, Ostara. That would probably overcome Item 1. But then you would have to add a corresponding number of secular posters to the collection to overcome Item 2: One might be the celebration of the Equinox by the American Atheists. Another might be a poster recommending that people change the batteries in their fire alarms on the Equinox. Such a display of two religious and two secular posters would probably be considered constitutional by most courts.

There might be a second alternative for the Christian poster. The Equal Access law requires that any public school that receives federal funding and which has as few as one extra-curricular student-organized and student-run club, must allow a Bible study club (or for that matter, a Buddhist Club or Wiccan Study Group, etc.) to organize. Such a club must be given equal opportunity to publicize their activities. So, if the astronomy club is allowed to put a poster on a central bulletin board advertising their club meeting, then the Bible club must be permitted to post a notice about their meetings as well. Now, it might be a bit of a stretch for a Bible club to post a church's poster, unless it had a very strong connection to the club itself -- perhaps wording saying that the Bible club would be observing their Easter week meeting by attending this church's drama. I have never seen reference to a court challenge of the right of a Bible Club to post a community church's poster. It would be an interesting case.

Of course, you could continue to post the church ad. Since you live in an area of the U.S. which has a strong Christian culture, few if any students or adults will complain. But the poster would be unconstitutional. It would send the message that Christianity is superior to all other religions, and to secularism. It would probably make some of your non-Christian students feel uncomfortable. This option does not seem like a positive one.

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This topic continues in the next essay

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Site navigation: Home page > Comments > Questions > here


Copyright © 2003 to 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2003-APR-11
Latest update and review: 2011-FEB-12
Author: B.A. Robinson

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