Tolerance and the Rule of Law
Two hundred years ago this year, in 1815, America was embroiled in a war with England during which our capitol city was destroyed. Â The war was fiercely unpopular with many Americans even though we were under direct attack.
And, in 1915, one hundred years ago, we were once again on the brink of war, this time in Europe as the principal countries there descended into carnage inspired by royal egos and diplomatic machinations.
Then president Woodrow Wilson stepped lightly to avoid U.S. opposition to war with Germany, especially from our huge German-American immigrant population who were the subject of suspicion and worse.
Here we are in 2015, at it again.
Our current wars, far-flung though they may be, are a test of our national cohesiveness and identity because they lap ashore here reminding us that the projection of forward firepower can be offset with pressure cookers, black powder and AR-15s.
The fearful face of the current struggle is so-called “radical Islam” often reduced by us to an anti-Christian and anti-American crusade.
Just ask the families of the 27 Kuwaitis killed in a suicide bombing in a mosque there last weekend.
Or the thousands killed by ISIS fighters throughout the Middle East merely because they fail to hew to a particular religious edict.
The vicious face of tribal and sectarian violence is founded in a lack of toleration for the other.
The enemy, here at least, is not the invasion of “Islamo-terrorists” but rather the familiar face of intolerance, as well.
The essential grace of American democracy is the ideal of tolerance and respect for the rule of law.
The believer and the non-believer alike enjoy the fruits of freedom.
ISIS and their adherents remind us of the perils of government by religious edict.
It turns out that was a lesson our founding father, George Washington, knew well.
Joseph Ellis reminds us that Washington (and others) were very careful to not allow religious preferences or beliefs to impede the growth of democracy.
Ellis refers to Washington as a “luke-warm Episcopalian who preferred the term “divine providence” over God and who chose to stand rather than kneel during prayer.”
Thomas Jefferson reported,Â â€œWhen the clergy addressed General WashingtonÂ on his departure from the government, it was observed in their consultation that he had never on any occasion said a word to the public which showed a belief in the Christian religion and they thought they should so pen their address as to force him at length to declare publicly whether he was a Christian or not. They did so. However [Dr. Rush] observed the old fox was too cunning for them. He answered every article of their address particularly except that, which he passed over without notice…
And, where toleration and personal choice were concerned, Washington made his feelings clear.
In 1784, he wrote to Tench Tilghman regarding the hiring of workers at Mount Vernon, “If they are good workmen, they may be of Asia, Africa, or Europe. They may be Mahometans [Mohammedans/Muslims], Jews, or Christians of any Sect, or they may be Atheists.”
This July fourth with religious indignation boiling over, George Washington reminds us that the bedrock of civil society is respect for each other, religion aside.