[In]tolerance and Religious Freedom

Most people would support the idea of religious tolerance.  After all, who would support intolerance, right?  But when it comes time to practice tolerance, these days it seems to more closely resemble intolerance and hostility.

Tolerance has traditionally been understood to mean respectfully enduring ideas with which you disagree.  This seems to be lost on some.  For example, in a blog post from SpinnyLiberal titled 9/11 Memorial: Cross or No Cross, Spinny states the following about whether the memorial at Ground Zero which is set to unveil should include a cross fashioned from steel girders from the Twin Towers:

I say keep the memorial religion-free.  First, for the obvious reason. Separation of church and state. The US government has invested millions in the project. It should be neutral.

Let me begin by saying I don’t get the impression Spinny’s intentions are malicious or intentionally hostile, just not fully thought out.

First, just because the U.S. government has provided funds for a particular project does not mean any depiction of religious symbology that may be a tangential part of the project is a violation of the misconstrued understanding of “Separation…”.  There seems to be a disconnect in understanding the difference between to advocate and to permit.  The government permitting religious symbology is not the same as the government advocating for a particular religion.

It would seem that Spinny’s idea of neutral looks more akin to hostile.  Neutrality would best be expressed by allowing symbols to be erected by religious adherents or even secular organizations seeking to partake in the memorial.  Neutral is neither for or against.  But to disallow a cross would not be neutral, it’s hostile.  “You may not participate” is a hostile stance.  “You may either participate or not participate” is neutral.  Neutrality may be the word used, but hostility is the desired concept.

Third, one of the greatest things about the United States are religious freedom and tolerance. We are not a Theocracy. You can worship how you want or not worship at all. To keep the memorial religion-free shows our respect for everyone who died there, religious or not.

It’s hard to know where to start.  This paragraph is thick with contradictory statements.  The United States stands for religious freedom and tolerance, but to show that tolerance means you may not express religion in public?  ‘Take down that cross’ = tolerance and freedom?  I just don’t see it.

It would seem restricting religious symbology is only respectful to the non-religious.  This again serves to subvert the true meaning of tolerance (to endure ideas with which you disagree).  And in fact better fits the definitions of bigotry and intolerance more so than tolerance.  It seems the only view being tolerated is that of the non-religious, and in fact secularism is what is being advocated for.

The idea of restricting religious expression runs contrary to the idea of religious freedom.  For those who share Spinny’s view, how is prohibiting religious expression advocating for religious freedom?  How does this idea of neutrality differ from hostility?


Related Article: Score one for religious bigotry


  1. Marshall Art says:

    You’re right on the money here. “Neutrality” is not possible as long as there exists the two extremes of belief and non-belief. One side will always lose out. The side the separation people will dishonor will always be the believers while the non-believers will be comfortable without the “nagging” of the religious symbols reminding them of their shortcomings.

    My question would be, “How does a public display of Christian symbolism equate to an establishment by our government of the Christian faith?”

  2. As I wrote about in my post on tolerance (http://thenullspace.wordpress.com/2011/05/17/on-tolerance/), “tolerance” is inherently contradictory. I agree that removal is hostile and intolerant, rather than neutral. Those who push “tolerance” always seem to forget the “free exercise [of religion]” part of the First Amendment.

    • The thing about neutrality is, there is no such thing. Everyone has an opinion, and everyone thinks theirs is right. There’s nothing wrong with that. After all, I think I’m right, you think you’re right, and George thinks he’s right. The problem arises when one person, or group of people think their position is the neutral position, or the default position. This isn’t necessarily a shot at Atheists, but they tend to think an environment, or position void of religious influence is the neutral position. And that’s when we run into these problems.

  3. I read this post, John, and I said to myself “John is so right on this, perhaps we shouldn’t have an issue with religious imagery in public places!” I still think that. Really, I do.
    Then, I read Marshall’s comment, and statements like “non-believers will be comfortable without the “nagging” of the religious symbols reminding them of their shortcomings.” and I suddenly remember that there is a far deeper and more sinister meaning to religious imagery for many Christians. Then I begin to wonder why someone as smart as you (I really believe that, too) can’t see why some atheists, non-Christians and secularists seem to be really uneasy with something that seems on its face to be harmless.
    I also wonder whether someone like Marshall would support a memorial design that gave equal representation to Christian, Islamic, Jewish, and Hindu imagery. I hope he would, because I would.

    Seriously though, it is comments like Maershall’s that set your case for religious tolerance back immeasurably.

    • But George, that’s like a Christian arguing against a secular Environment becaude there are secularists like your friend Jeremy who despise religion and feel it would be a victory to remove the cross.

      There are going to be passionate people on both sides.

  4. Thanks for the shout, John. I just have a couple questions, though. Would you be OK with a Star of David erected there? Or a Star and Crescent? Maybe even a Pentacle for the Wiccans? If you’re OK with that, where would it stop? When all religions are represented?

    I don’t understand why keeping it neutral is such a bad thing. The 9/11 memorial isn’t “supposed to be” religious.

    • Here’s the thing, Spinny, I would be ok with those. I wholly disagree with their message, but the freedom to express your religious beliefs is protected by the first amendment; not the freedom from being offended. I’m not saying you’re offended by religious symbology, I don’t think. only bigots are offended by religion.

      The problem is “no religion” is considered the neutral position, and it’s not. Like I said, neutrality is permitting those who wish to participate. Of course, I would oppose mockery, like FSM monuments. But actual legitimate religious expression is protected and should not be compelled into silence.

      Which authority said the 9/11 monument is “supposed to be” secular? I mean, why is that the presupposed default?

      • I’m not offended by religious symbology, but I wouldn’t write off people who are offended by religion as bigots. Many horrendous things have been done in the name of religion, and I can understand why they would be offended.

        It’s the presupposed default because the memorial is about honoring the people that died there, not remembering the religion (or lack) of the victims.

        If all religions could place their symbols there, there should be a star and crescent. There were Muslims who died there, the ones that didn’t use their religion to satisfy and justify their bloodlust.

        • If you want to dig deep into the past in order to find some horrible thing to hold against religion, then there’s no helping the person who wants to hold a grudge. Horrible things have been done in nearly every ideology’s name.

          Crosses have become synonymous with memorializing death. Claiming the croos must be removed because “the memorial is about honoring the people that died there, not remembering the religion (or lack) of the victims” over looks the fact that the overwhelming number of people who did die were Christian, and for many, if not most people religion is part of what defines who they are. So their Christianity represented in a memorial would be representing the Christian victims.

          I always have to shake my head a bit when I hear “well then there should be _______ too”. Well, go a head then. It just so happens the people who ______ would represent have not stepped up and asked for a ______ to be at the memorial. Its not like _____ are prohibited, its just that a cross was desired, and other symbols have not been requested. No one have been excluded, its just that no one else has asked to be included. There’s a difference.

        • Those who claimed to be Christians while committing violence, such as the crusades, inquisitions, etc, were NOT following the teachings of the Bible. While those who claim to be Muslims while committing violence are the true believers who ARE following their hoiy book. That is a big difference. If Muslims were killed in the towers, that’s collateral damage to real Islam, and they should not be allowed a symbol of triumph.

        • @John – I’m sure there were a lot of Christians. There were A LOT of Jewish people too. I still don’t get why that warrants a cross or star or whatever. Because it symbolizes death? Because being Christian or Jewish defines some of them? One of those in the suit thinks the cross shouldn’t be up there because it comes from a Catholic church and his brother was Lutheran. How many religious symbols (and variants) should be up? Maybe we can put a symbol of their religion next to the names of the victims. Even though it really doesn’t matter because bottom line, it’s about their death. Not their religion that died with them.

          @Glenn – So the Inquistion people weren’t following that whole “suffer a witch to live” thing from the Bible when they burned them alive?

          Anyway, it comes down to opinion. And mine is keep it religion-free.

          Thanks for the ping back. Peace brother. :-)

          • What I’m about to say will come off as abrasive. I don’t mean it with animosity or ill will, so please don’t take personal offense.

            Who are you to tell someone, or a gorup of someones that they can’t memorialize the dead anyway they want to? Seriously, (and this is where it starts to sound hostile, sorry) who do you think you are to tell them to take it down for your sensabilities?

            Those on the “take it down” side express the hight of arrogance, in my opinion.

            Spinny, I appreciate your patience and grace with my criticism, some people resort to child like tantrums and insults. Thanks for showing class.

        • No offense taken. :-)

          To answer your question, no one. An atheist may ask (harshly), “Who are you to push the way you memorialize someone on to me?” or “Who are you to think that you can put up that cross in the first place?”

          Although you would be alright with all religions being represented at the memorial, there would be so many people who would say “absolutely not” to a crescent and star. To me, the height of arrogance is to include one religion and exclude others.

  5. I would be against the star and crescent because it was Islamic ideology which caused the destruction of the towers – so why celebrate it? That would be like flying a swastika at Auschwitz.

    • I absolutely see your point. It was Muslim ideology that was responsible for the need of a memorial. But as far as our constitution is concerned, Islam cannot be excluded. But then again that has always been part of the Muslim plan — to bring down America from within, using our own system against us.

      • I would counter, John, that this was not a case of “Muslim ideology” any more than the Spanish Inquisition was “Christian Ideology”, nor was the ethnic cleansing of Kurds by Croatians. We are talking about a sub-set of Islam that is not supported by the vast majority of Muslims.
        It was terrorists who committed the acts on Sept. 11, and though they were indoctrinated using Islamic religion, it is no different than saying that Timothy McVeigh was a Christian, or that that guy from Norway is- therefor Christianity is an ideology that is dangerous.
        Also, the fact that you believe that there exists a “Muslim Plan” to bring down America from within says an awful lot about this issue…..

        • You miss the point George. Those who claim to be Christian but did the inquisition, etc cannot find biblical support for their behavior without twisting the Scripture completely out of context. However, the real Muslims are those who are the terrorists because they are the ones who follow what the Koran teaches. The Koran and the Hadiths all teach subjugation by force, and the entire world must be put under Islam. Muslims who do not agree with that are secular muslims who don’t know their own faith.

          So, If a Christian is violent – he is against his holy book. If a Muslim is violent – he is following his holy book.

  6. Spinny Liberal:

    The passage about not suffering a witch to live was a law given only to the nation of Israel as part of setting that nation apart for holiness as God’s chosen people. No one else was given that law.

  7. I admit I become frustrated with the whole “atheist movement” when I read stories like these. I concur with your assessment, John, that much of what this movement is pushing for seems to stem from hostility rather than wanting to see religious neutrality.

    In this case, I don’t have a problem with the steel beams being displayed in the memorial. I would, however, have a problem if there were other religions that would try to vie for their own inclusion within the memorial. The beams are not inherently religious, they provided relief and hope to those of the Christian faith because they happened to be in the shape of a cross – a result more dependent on modern architecture than anything else. People take solace in many things. At the Holocause museum in D.C. (why is Godwin’s Law so good?) there is an exhibit displaying hundreds of pairs of shoes from the victims of concentration camps. If we were to discover that there were a religion that had the shoe as their religious symbol, would we be required to remove the exhibit simply to remain religiously neutral? No, of course not. Just as the shoes are a powerful symbol that is from that day, so are the steel beams. Simply because it happened to be the symbol of a religion does not deter from the fact that it is a powerful reminder of that day, and that those girders became important in the aftermath of the tragedy.

    Having said that, I would take great issue if, as part of the exhibit, there were some affirmation of Christianity in any way. That would be crossing the line, in my opinion.

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