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Religious tolerance

Is religious tolerance sufficient?
An example of religious intolerance.

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Is religious toleration sufficient?

Not by a long shot!

Jo Garcia-Cobb, a student in a comparative religion course at Southern Oregon University, commented:

"Surely, we can tolerate a flea. But why must people of opposing religious views merely tolerate each other?" 1

We view religious tolerance as just the lowest step on a staircase. Each level produces an increasingly worthwhile change in personal attitude:

Enjoy the diversity that other faith groups contribute to society.
Appreciate the similarities and differences between other faith groups and your own.
Deep learning of other faith groups' beliefs and practices. Respectful inter-faith dialog.
Recognize faith groups' contribution to society.
Superficial study of other faith groups.
Recognize their existence as part of the religious mosaic of the country.
Allow other faith groups equal rights; permit them to exist.

In the United States, the Federal Constitution has erected a wall of separation between church and state. This prevents the government from making laws regarding the establishment of religion. All religions must be treated equally. They cannot differentiate between what they regard as "valid" and "invalid" faiths. So, the state is required to at least acknowledge religious diversity.

If tolerance is so inadequate, why promote it on this web site?

We believe that toleration is the lowest acceptable starting point. But not everyone is even at that point. Below toleration, we have a number of steps leading into the pit of mass murder and genocide.

Deny a faith group status as a legitimate religion (e.g. Russia & Baptists)
Restrict the civil rights of a faith group (e.g. France & Jehovah's Witnesses)
Active repression; deny employment (e.g. Germany & Church of Scientology)
Perceive members of a faith group as being sub-human (e.g. Bulgaria & Roma [Gypsies])
Lynching, murder, shootings, attempted murder (e.g. Some citizens of South Africa & Witches)
Mass murder, genocide, extermination of a whole faith group (e.g. Sudan & Animists, Christians)

The most appalling examples of the bottom rung in recent history have included:

bullet The persecution and extermination of Jews, from the late 4th century in the Roman Empire to post-World War II persecution in Europe.
bullet The Nazi Holocaust which systematically killed about 6 million Jews, 400,000 Roma (Gypsies), an unknown number of Jehovah's Witnesses, an unknown number of homosexuals, and others on religious grounds.
bullet The Sudan government's current war of extermination against Christians, Muslims Animists in the southern part of that country.
bullet The current murder of hundreds of people each year in the northern regions of South Africa who are believed to be evil "Witches".
bullet The many current and recent civil disturbances and wars around the world which are/were at least partly caused by religious intolerance: Bosnia, East Timor, India, Kosovo, Middle East, Northern Ireland, Pakistan, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Sudan, and Tibet.

In North America, there are many incidences of antisemitic verbal attacks, desecration of property, and random killings by Neo-nazis, members of Christian Identity groups, and others. The only recent lynching, and attempted mass murder of which we are aware were perpetrated by conservative Christians victimizing a Wiccan, who they saw as a threat to their town. Some antisemitic groups call for a holy war and exile against Jews.

The only recent instances that we have heard of where American promoted a program of genocide were:

bullet a conservative Christian teleminister in the mid 1990's calling for the extermination of all Wiccans.
bullet a Baptist minister in Texas who called for the mass burning and even napalming of Wiccans in 1999-SEP.

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An example of the results of religious intolerance:

Perhaps the most vicious example of religious intolerance in recent years has been in the Balkans. The civil war in Bosnia was largely based on mutual religious hatreds among some Muslims, Roman Catholic Christians, and Serbian Orthodox Christians. The oppression and resultant war in Kosovo was more complex, since it had cultural, economic, ethnic, and religious causes. But it was largely oppression by Serbian Orthodox Christians against Muslims.

On 1999-JUN-22, President Clinton commented on the gradual, step-wise descent into genocide in Kosovo. He emphasized the symbolic role that the U.S. Armed forces played. Within the military, there is respect for religious diversity and freedom for minority religions. He gave a congratulatory talk to troops at Aviano Air Base in Italy, recognizing their efforts during the air war against Yugoslavia. He said in part:

"...tomorrow's dictators in other places will have to now take a harder look before they try to destroy or expel an entire people simply because of their race or religion...

I want to say a special word of appreciation to all of you in our Armed Forces for just being here. If you think about -- I want you to really think about it -- you think about what Kosovo is all about. People were taught to hate people who were  from a different ethnic group than they were, who worshipped God in a different way. They started out by being afraid of them and misunderstanding them. Then, they came to hate them. And then  after hating them for a good while, they came to dehumanize them.

And once you decide that someone you're looking at is no longer a human being, it's not so hard to justify killing them, or burning them out of house and home, or torturing their children, or doing all the other things you have heard. It all starts -- it all starts with the inability to recognize the inherent dignity and equality of someone who is different from ourselves.

The composition of our Armed Forces, with people from every race, every ethnic group, every religious persuasion, from all walks of life, that make up American society -- the fact that our military has all of you in it is the most stunning rebuke to the claims of ethnic cleansing."

We would love to see the above text posted in every classroom in North America. But, as President Clinton spoke those words, religious diversity and freedom within the U.S. military were under attack by Congressman Barr, Governor Bush of Texas, other political leaders, and a coalition of conservative Christian groups.


The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The first link is no longer active today.

  1. Jo Garcia-Cobb, "Celebration, Not Tolerance," at:
  2. President Clinton, "Remarks by the President to operation allied force troops," 1999-JUN-22, at:

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Copyright 1998 to 2008 by Ontario Consultants on religious Tolerance
Latest update and review: 2006-DEC-28
Author: B.A. Robinson

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