Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | August 28, 2012

Tolerance: Such a simple idea, so difficult for so many

“Tolerance is giving to every other human being every right that you claim for yourself.” ~ American statesman and orator Robert Green Ingersoll

Tolerance is such a simple idea, but one that’s incredibly difficult for some people to grasp, as evidenced by the bigoted opposition to the construction of a mosque in San Martin. With opponents appealing the Santa Clara County Planning Commission’s recent approval of the mosque proposal, we’ll have more opportunities to witness intolerance rooted in bigotry.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a bigot as “A person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices; especially one who regards or treats the members of a group (as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance.

I’m not saying that all opposition to the mosque is bigoted. In most cases, I can only take opponents’ word if they claim that they’d be citing similar concerns about traffic, noise, local-serving uses or groundwater contamination if a worship center and cemetery proposal came from a Catholic, Protestant Christian, Jewish, or Mormon group as they’re raising about this proposal from Muslims.

However, much of the opposition to the San Martin mosque proposal has included statements like these:

  • “This is a Christian country. This is an American valley. I’m just suspicious that they’re sneaking in to contaminate our country.” ~ Diane Dawson, Morgan Hill, 2012
  • “What will it take to wake Americans up to the threat of Islam? How many more concessions will we make in the name of liberal political correctness?” ~ Dawson, 2007
  • “… The representatives of the so-called “religion of peace” want to add insult to injury and build a mosque in our idyllic community. … Maybe you [Muslims] should return from where you came from. Maybe it’s time for another Crusades.” ~ Jim Becker, San Martin
  • “Every other religion in a country with an Islamic majority in power is repressed. You have to draw the line somewhere.”  ~ James Fennell, Gilroy
  • “It is naïve to think that [Muslims] have no ulterior motive for establishing themselves in the U.S.” ~ Nancy Murphy, San Martin
  • “I do not wish for me and my family to be converted to Islam, nor do I wish for us to be slain.” ~ Scott Thompson, San Martin
  • “Having a mosque in South County is a bad idea. … You wouldn’t give your house keys to a burglar or your gun to a murderer. Why then would you give a foothold in our community to a group that wants to destroy our way of life?” ~ Andrew Serrano, Morgan Hill

Besides being bigoted, religious intolerance is also un-American. Merriam-Webster defines un-American as “not characteristic of or consistent with American customs, principles, or traditions.” This country was founded by courageous individuals who fled religious persecution in their homelands. Religious tolerance is written into America’s founding documents.

The First Amendment states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The United States Supreme Court, in numerous cases, has judged this to mean that religion and government should be separate, a key American concept commonly called the separation of church and state.

Moreover, the Fourteenth Amendment contains the equal protection clause that requires that all people are treated the same under the law. It does not include an asterisk followed by the words “except Muslims.”

Having embarrassing, ignorant allies is painful. Just ask all the folks in the Republican Party who agree with Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO)’s position on abortion — ban all abortions, even for victims of rape or incest — but rushed to denounce his ignorant, offensive claim that women tend to not conceive as a result of “legitimate” rapes.

As a South County resident who cherishes American values like tolerance, diversity, and religious freedom, I cringe every time I learn about a South County neighbor’s bigoted, un-American comment opposing the mosque.

Here’s the bottom line: The worship center proposal should be held to the same standards that would be applied to any other proposal from that site; the religion of the people making the proposal is utterly irrelevant. If you believe that the religion to be practiced at the proposed worship center is relevant, I strongly suggest that you look up the definition of bigotry and study this country’s founding principles

“Ultimately, America’s answer to the intolerant man is diversity, the very diversity which our heritage of religious freedom has inspired.” ~ Senator Robert F. Kennedy

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