Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Meditations for the Humanist - Part 2 - Tolerance and DOMA

“The peak of tolerance is most readily achieved by those who are not burdened with convictions.” – Alexander Chase

An intolerant person is defined as one who “wishes others to live as the thinks they ought, and who seeks to impose his practices and beliefs upon them” (Grayling 2002, 7) True tolerance states that humanity thrives most by “permitting a variety of lifestyles to flourish, because they represent experiments from which might be learned about how to deal with the human condition” (Grayling 2002, 7-8).  Democracy has a similar aim in that a government run by the people, for the people, must include the voices and active participation of all demographics for it to flourish, especially if it is to afford the protect of minority rights. There is an inherent danger in democratic style government, namely majority oppression of minorities.

Grayling says,
Tolerance is, however, not only the centerpiece but the paradox of liberalism. For liberalism enjoins tolerance of opposing viewpoints, and allows them to have their say, leaving it to the democracy of ideas to decide which shall prevail. The result is to often the death of toleration itself, because those who live by hard principles and uncompromising views in political, moral and religious respects always, if given half a chance, silence liberals because liberalism, by its nature, threatens the hegemony they wish to impose.
Foreseeing this danger, the founders blessed us with the Bill of Rights as well as checks and balances in government. This was done in order to protect all citizens, especially minority demographics from majority oppression, including religious oppression.

The traditional republican platform has always had a foundation in states rights and a smaller federal government. The power of the federal government was seen as a threat to personal liberty.  However, when it comes to civil liberties and human rights issues, puritan morality seems to trump this age-old Republican value. This is becoming quite relevant with various contemporary social issues, especially homosexuality, marriage and the DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act). 

Traditionally marriage has been a religious ceremony, and many prefer it to remain as such. However, in this country, in this secular country, marriage is a civil right. Vermont, Connecticut and New York, which all have legalized gay marriage, now content that DOMA is a violation of states rights. They contend that the federal government has not right or authority to regulate the institution of marriage. The civil rights granted by marriage simple have nothing to do with religion, such as social security benefits, child-care tax credits, family and medical leave to take care of loved ones and COBRA health care for spouses and children. By denying a citizen these civil rights, they are thereby being denied human rights. The fourteenth Amendment to the Constitutions provides all citizens equal protection under the law. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights also speaks to this issue in its first, second and seventh articles, which says “All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law…”

DOMA is designed to prevent the legalization of same-sex marriage at the state level. The LGBTQ community is being discriminated against as they are denied this equal protection. They are being denied their civil/human rights. Once more, they are being denied this right from the Republican Party that supposedly champions personal freedom and liberty and views the Federal government as intrusive and oppressive. This is a fabulous example of how the Republican platform has lost its way. It is no longer centered around small government and states rights, but it has been hijacked by moralistic, intolerant religious fanatics who at their very core are opposed to the liberalism, pluralism and democratic ideals that America is founded upon.

I am not saying that marriage cannot be a religious ceremony. What I am saying is that in a democratic, pluralistic society, those who do not wish to be religious, those who do not want religion to have any part of their civil/human rights, shouldn’t be denied their rights because it makes religious people uncomfortable.

By providing the same rights to all citizens, society will thrive and become more cohesive and functional. Chris Kluwe, the punter for the Minnesota Vikings said, “You know what having these rights will make gays? Full-fledged American citizens just like everyone else, with the freedom to pursue happiness and all that entails. Do the civil-rights struggles of the past 200 years mean absolutely nothing…?” Chuck Norris recently said a thousand years of darkness will not ensue. And many prominent figures who claim that hurricanes and other natural disasters are Gods punishment for sanctioning equality are intolerant religious bigots who should not be tolerated, let alone be given a platform to spew their fear. Intolerance itself is merely a symptom of fear and insecurity. And this is what the Republican Party has become in my eyes, a political party based on intolerance rooted in fear and insecurity. The relevant question is….”Should the tolerant tolerate the intolerant?” And the answer is obviously no. Tolerance must protect itself. No one can force another to adopt a certain viewpoint or practice. The only coercion should be argument and honest reasoning, which is what we would expect from our government. Religious freedom does not entail the right to discriminate. Protecting minorities and civil rights is not an attack on Christianity. It is compassionate. It is based in identification with all of humanity, regardless of creed, sex, color of skin and any other label. It is based in ethics, an ethics encouraged not by religious discourse, but by secular discourse, which provides and equal footing for all. For a deeper in depth discussion please see my previous post “Tolerating the Intolerant.”


Grayling, A.C. (2002). Meditations for the Humanist: Ethics for a Secular Age. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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