Before the United States became the United States, the various colonies were often defined by religion. During colonial times, people fled Europe for a number of reasons, one of which was to practice their religion free from persecution. The charters of many of the colonies specified that in order to hold public office in that colony, one must be a member of a particular church.
This was because each colony was expected to have an overwhelming majority of people of that particular religion, since the particular colony in question was originally settled by people of that faith and had become a sanctuary for people of that particular faith who were fleeing persecution in Europe.
When the War of Independence was won and it was time to draw up a federal constitution, the Founding Fathers (almost all of whom were Deists) decided that this had to change. Obviously, it would be difficult enough to keep the Union together without the additional burden of resentments between the states arising where the perceived mistreatment of a religious minority of one state is resented by another state in which that same religion is the religion of the majority.
The solution that the Founding Fathers arrived at was to forbid any religious test as a requirement for public office. This was not only a necessary measure for the formation of the United States, but it was one of the earliest steps that enabled the evolution to the religious tolerance we enjoy today.
Tolerance of other religions is not only essential for our constitution, it is wise social policy and wise to apply as individuals in our day to day dealings with others. The reasons why become obvious upon reflection. First, 90 percent (or more) of us are born into our religious beliefs, because our parents have imparted their beliefs to us. Also, religious belief is a very personal attribute. This combination means that when one insults another person’s religion, the individual on the receiving end is likely to feel that both he and his parents have been personally insulted. Also, religion is a matter of personal belief, and therefore a religious dispute cannot possibly be settled objectively as a matter of fact. A dispute over religious belief is analogous to people arguing over which tastes better, barbecued ribs or steak.
Neither side is going to give up its position.
Reacting to the religious beliefs of others by calling their religion an insulting name damages the civility which is so important to discourse in a democracy. I am not going to vote for Mitt Romney, but attacking him for his religious beliefs is a cheap shot that resonates with only a small minority of voters.
Paul Schwietering is a resident of Union Township.