I was raised to believe in an America that is tolerant of differences in religious, social, and cultural belief and practice. I was raised to believe that "tolerance" means "embrace diversity" not "put up with differences." And as a result I have friends that are from every religion (or none) and from many cultural backgrounds and who have made many different choices in their social behaviors.
MSNBC reports that the "electorate (is) deeply divided...", citing exit polls that show that "moral values" became a critical issue for voters in reelecting President Bush -- "...white evangelicals — a crucial voting bloc for the president — represented about a fifth of all voters. Their top issue was moral values." The Arizona Daily Star reports that:
"Moral values" is a catchphrase for conservative, religious voters who oppose abortion, stem-cell research and gay marriage, said Steven Waldman, editor and CEO of BeliefNet, a multifaith Web site for religious and spiritual issues.The problem I have with this definition of the issue is that it inaccurately places the locus of the voter's interest on the values instead of on a desire to IMPOSE those values on the rest of the nation's citizens. Many people, on both sides of the election, hold the same beliefs on these three issues. John Kerry expressed his personal belief that marriage is between a man and a woman and his personal belief that abortion is immoral. But he did so while saying that it was not the job of government to impose the personal religious beliefs of a President on the citizens of the nation. So when we talk about Bush winning on "moral values" we should be clear -- he won based on an electorate determined to impose their moral values onto others.
I heard Pat Buchanan on the radio a few weeks ago (on NPR - archive here) making the seemingly reasonable suggestion that local electorates should be able to make decisions on behalf of themselves when it comes to public resources -- for example, if a local school district wants to have prayer in their schools, why shouldn't there be a democratic process to decide? Why not let the citizens of that district simply vote on the matter?
One of the other things that I was raised to believe about our democracy is that there is an important balance that must be struck in protecting minorities. The problem with allowing a majority vote to provide the only guidepost for our civic decisions is the risk of a "tyranny of democracy" in which a majority imposes its views on a minority.
While still a vast majority, the percentage of Americans calling themselves Christian has declined from 86% in 1990 to 76% in 2001 (American Religious Identification Survey at The Graduate Center, City University of New York) Almost 1/4 of our population is Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, agnositic, atheist (or one of a handful of others). This trend is expected to continue. Another interesting statistic from this study,
"In 1990, ninety percent of the adult population identified with one or another religion group. In 2001, such identification has dropped to eighty-one percent.""No religion" is a staggering 13.1% of the total US adult population - staggering because it is the second largest category. Evangelical Christians might look at these statistics and see 27 million people that used to be Christians that could be brought back into the fold. And voting for public money to be spent on Christian schools might help with that agenda...
But should a democracy impose the will of the majority on that 13% of its citizens who chose to be "areligious" (no religion but not agnostic or atheist) much less on the 11% that are Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, Wiccan... ?? How can a great nation like ours decide on belief-based issue like gay marriage, abortion, stem-cell research, prayer in school based on one groups beliefs?
The right has often cited that the phrase "separation of church and state" cannot be found in the constitution. Instead it is contained in a letter by Thomas Jefferson. But perhaps it is time in this great nation to suggest a 28th Constitutional Amendment, certainly more important to the nation's well being than the 27th in which we formally introduce these words and protect the minorities of our country now and in the future from the imposition of the majority's views. After all, in the future Christians may become the minority.