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ETpro's avatar

Do you think America lives up to it's claims of religious freedom and tolerance?

Asked by ETpro (34208 points ) December 23rd, 2012

Frank Bruni’s op-ed piece in The New York Times lists a number of areas where America falls short of its Constitutional goal of freedom of, as well as from religion. As we watch the horrors visited on Islamic nations that fall under religious law and completely abandon respect for any religious views other than those of the ruling Mullahs, do you think the USA does enough to protect diversity of religious belief, or lack of religious belief, in America. Can openly atheistic candidates expect to win high office in America?

The US religious right constantly claims there is a “war” against their faith. Bill O’Reilly spent 55:10 minutes between Dec. 1, 2012 and Dec. 18th “covering” the supposed “War on Christmas.” He spent only 15:03 minutes talking about all the real wars we are in or peripherally connected to. Is there a real war on religion, or is it in fact just the other way around, with a virtual Christian Taliban seeking to have their beliefs built into school curricula and posted on every public building?

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41 Answers

ucme's avatar

“The land of the free & the home of the deranged.”

hearkat's avatar

I think we are better than some places, but clearly have far to go to attain a nation where all people are free to pursue happiness – whether we are restricted due to religious differences, gender, skin tone, or sexual orientation. I live in a very multicultural area, so it is not bad here, but other parts of the country have a more closed-minded culture towards those who are “different” (a.k.a. not a white, heterosexual, Christian male).

Around October of this year I was contemplating writing an essay about how our nation is supposed to be considered as ”leading the free world”, and how it behooves us to be role models to the world of what democracy can be, and how important it is that we choose leaders that truly believe the we are all equal. I just didn’t have the time to invest in writing it, and who would actually read it, anyway.

glacial's avatar

@hearkat As a non-American, I would really like to know by what authority the US has declared itself the “leader of the free world”. I detest that phrase, and the hubris it represents.

bolwerk's avatar

On religion: fairly well I think. There are forces that try to stop it from doing so. I question the constitutional legality of “In God We Trust” and “One Nation under God,” but each is really a pretty minor offense as these things go.

On tolerance: perhaps better than most other places, all things considered. We’re not #1, but we aren’t at the bottom of the heap either. The lack of nationalism in the USA is great. The proliferation of hamfisted patriotic jingoism in its place is pretty embarrassing though.

IMHO, the USA is more or less second to none on the first amendment freedoms. It’s other areas, like economic freedoms, privacy, healthcare, and rights of the accused where we are falling frighteningly behind.

I’ll read the article later and maybe have additional comments.

ragingloli's avatar

The lack of nationalism in the USA is great.
What.

bolwerk's avatar

@ragingloli: there is little politically organized nationalism, like you have in Europe.

There isn’t a credible case for it either, though. (How can Americans all claim to be descended from the same tribe?)

ragingloli's avatar

Yeah, very little, except for, you know, the entire republican party.
Barely anyone shouts “USA USA!”, or “America is the best country in the world”, or the “Leader of the free world”. There is no irrational hatred of the United Nations, because how dare the world try to impose its will on AMERICA! After all it is not as if the USA! USA! could just veto anything it does not like. And no one in the USA! USA! tries to shut down any argument by saying “you are a foreigner, so your opinion is invalid”, or tries to tell them that only americans are free, and every one else is a “subject” of their “socialist” government who does not have any rights. And the USA! USA! are all to eager to learn from the world, because no one in america thinks that they should not adopt any solutions other countries have found, like universal healthcare, decriminalising drugs, or introducing effective gun control laws, because those countries are all evil socialist hellholes who want to destroy america.

hearkat's avatar

@glacial – I can’t say that I blame you, and I honestly don’t know the origins of the phrase and I don’t necessarily think that it is well-deserved, hence my use of italics and quotations around the phrase. The US has been a major financial and military presence on the globe for more than a century. But as a professional woman I feel the presence of inequality every day – and again, I am in the suburbs of New York City, so we’re pretty progressive here.

I know this discussion is supposed to be focused on religion. I am a caucasian with fair skin and light eyes, so most assume that I am Irish catholic. My name is a pre-revolutionary New England WASP (white-anglo-saxon-protestant, for those who may not know the term) name, but now there are some Jews with the name, so it’s ambiguous. I kind-of like that it keeps people guessing. I am not religious, and people react strangely when I tell them that I no longer celebrate Christmas, since I do not worship Jesus or the Dollar. Again, our state has enough cultures that religion in the schools was never an issue – even when I was growing up in the 1970s, we had a diverse cultural population.

hearkat's avatar

@ragingloli – You are stereotyping American citizens, and I assure you that we are not all like that. Sadly, though, the masses are tube-fed what the corporations that run our country want them to hear (which is what I suppose @bolwerk meant by “hamfisted patriotic jingoism”). I feel that having one parent from a pre-revolutionary family and the other who is a resident alien from Europe has given me a somewhat broader perspective. I hope that with the internet – if we can keep it free – we can open minds across all borders. The uprising needs to come from all of us who are aware that we share this tiny planet, and we are more alike than we are different.

Something that I feel complicates the United States’ government is that fact that we are so large… What works in Sweden might work in New Hampshire, but not in Minnesota, for example. Many other countries represent a far smaller proportion of the population. If all Europe had only one representative in the U.N., it might be more comparable. I am struggling to find the right way to express the point I am trying to make here, and I have to go help make dinner. As for U.N. veto power, Russia and China have used there’s with regard to handling Syria, so the USA isn’t the only one to exert or threaten it.

bolwerk's avatar

@ragingloli: I think you’re misunderstanding the meaning of “nationalist” – it’s usually considered to mean some kind of belief that a country shares some kind of common ethnic/tribal origin, and that this should be the basis for a country’s borders. Hence the idea of the “nation-state” – a silly idea in an ethnically homogenous country, no doubt, but too patently absurd even for American right-wingers to embrace as a basis for American “exceptionalism.”

So, yes, those things happen, but almost none of them are nationalist. Those things are jingoist – and you didn’t even really mention the racist happenings here, which are maybe worse – but not nationalist.

ragingloli's avatar

@bolwerk
That is only one type of nationalism, there are others as well.
American Nationalism seems to be pretty much Territorial Nationalism with a heavy dose of Ultranationalism.

bolwerk's avatar

@ragingloli: even if I took Wikipedia seriously as a source for political terminology, their definition comes pretty close to precluding it in the American context: ”[n]ationalism is a form of patriotism based upon the identification of a group of individuals with a nation.” They do tie it into what I think is a uselessly over-broad definition of ’‘nation’’, which is why I say “pretty close.”

Either way, the important thing is recognizing that the kind of jingoism we have here is a different from yours. It may be similar, it may be comparable, it may be better/more extensive/worse, but it’s different.

Also, really clumsy use of the word “patriotism” there. This is what happens when terminology is decided by a committee of authoritarian shut-ins.

@hearkat: I don’t think she was stereotyping Americans. I think she was pointing rather accurately to an obnoxious, noisy subset of Americans. I just think it’s important to understand their ideas aren’t quite the same as the European nationalists/fascists because conflating the two makes it harder to confront each.

El_Cadejo's avatar

‘MURICA!

god I hate this country….

syz's avatar

I think that for a majority of Americans, “freedom of religion” has come to mean “freedom of Christianity” exclusively.

Brian1946's avatar

@syz

Are you saying that the majority of Americans want it that way?

If so, it might still be that way, but the massive rejection in last month’s elections of political candidates who espouse such theocratic crap and the decreasing religiosity of younger people, seems to indicate that the number of Xtian theocentrists is decreasing.

JenniferP's avatar

I know that my religion has done a lot for the religious freedoms others take for granted. We fought court cases that guarantee many of the freedoms for religion. Our children were forced to say the pledge of Allegiance in schools at one time and were expelled for refusing to do so.

ragingloli's avatar

@Brian1946
a 51% to 47.3% outcome is not a “massive rejection”. That is a less than 5 million difference of 120 million overall votes given.

Brian1946's avatar

@ragingloli

I wasn’t saying the percentage of the vote received by Obama is a “massive rejection” by itself.

I was stating my general impression, that apparently a very large percentage of the political candidates who held views that were implicitly Xian theocratic were defeated. I’m guessing that there were hundreds of congressional races in that election and I haven’t done a rigorous statistical analysis of them all, so my general impression about that might not meet the exact mathematical requirement for “massive”.

Perhaps I was hyperbolic in using that adjective, but hopefully I’m right in my overall impression that even if the majority of the US still wants “freedom of Christianity”, that majority is decreasing and will soon become a minority.

glacial's avatar

@Brian1946 “Xtian” expands to Christtian. There should only be one “t” in there.

JenniferP's avatar

Religious tolerance and freedom are two different things. We are afforded certain freedoms by law. But tolerance is something that individuals either demonstrate or don’t demonstrate. I think that there is horrible religious prejudice in this country.

JenniferP's avatar

@bolwerk What on earth are you talking about? When did I ever say that?

bolwerk's avatar

Did I say you said it?

JenniferP's avatar

@bolwerk Sorry, I misunderstood.

Paradox25's avatar

Religious freedom has always been a controversial topic, and not just in the U.S but around the world long before America came to be. Religious freedom was a hot topic even during 17th century America. I think that Rhode Island was the first colony to allow true religious freedom. Quakers were heavily persecuted, and even executed by mainstream Christians despite being among the most peaceful people to have ever walked the earth.

We see religious intolerence in Tibet, where the brutal Marxist regime of China has murdered well over one million peaceful Buddhists. This situation may seem more political than religious to some, but in the end I feel that all religious persecution is politically motivated in some way. Personally I blame authoritarian mindsets for most of the world’s traumas today, and whether these idiots are secular or religious in nature, they seem to prey on the peaceful secularists and religionists. I guess this is why it is common for the religions that thrive off of judgmentalism and their authority being the one truth to hate peaceful spiritual and secular individuals.

The religious freedom mentioned in the OP, pertaining to the religious right in America is what I liken to how many early peaceful Christians, such as the Celtics and the Gnostics, had their teachings condemned as Satanic or heresay. Damn, even most Christian fundamentalists hate each other’s beliefs. This is the problem, religions that thrive off of judgmentalism and that teach their way is the only way can never allow tolerence of other religions. Just look at all of the Muslim theocracies, and what happens to people who openly criticize Islam, they usually don’t live very long.

JenniferP's avatar

My religion doesn’t do anything to try to influence politics or against gay marriage or anything. I have my personal opinions about what is or isn’t acceptable but I don’t try to do anything to interfere with anyone else’s life.

About the most offensive experiences that I have had was on another site dominated by fundamentalists. They thought that anyone that wasn’t saved was going to Hellfire. You might be an okay person in general but if you didn’t have that 5 minute talk with God, you would be eternally burned and tortured.

bolwerk's avatar

@JenniferP: better not to hedge your bets!

JenniferP's avatar

What does hedge your bets mean?

ETpro's avatar

@ucme I wish there were no truth to that. Sadly, I know it is all too often the case. Just don’t paint us all with the same tar-and-feather brush. To do that would be as deranged as the worst among us.

@hearkat I’d certainly read your blog. And I’d share the thoughts I could share short of plagiarizing your writing. It doesn’t take very many people doing the same to give your work serious reach.

@glacial To the extent that there is a leader of the free world, the US is probably it. I do believe that the phrase “free world” is open to debate, but it is abundantly clear that some parts of the world are freer than others, and that the part the US leads is freer than that part that communists lead, or that which fundamentalist Islamist lead.

@bolwerk I agree the USA is more religiously free than many lands, but I feel strongly that we have a long way to go to live up to the lofty ideals set forward in our Constitution.

Self_Consuming_Cannibal's avatar

America seems to only tolerate something if it doesn’t upset people.

Our national slogan should be, “Express yourself, but be careful you might hurt someone’s feelings.”

glacial's avatar

Well, I hate to burst your bubble, @ETpro, but you don’t lead my country in anything. We collaborate on things, and we trade a lot, but we elect our own leaders and make our own decisions up here, thankyouverymuch. And we are very, very free – in some ways much freer than Americans are (not that they are likely to see it that way).

As far as I know, the phrase “free world” was invented by Americans, mainly so they could declare themselves in charge of it. Which is a pile of bullshit, frankly.

Shippy's avatar

Does society every live up to anything? Really it is up to the individual to change the world, bit by bit. But most just go on hate campaigns. Really, no change there.

ucme's avatar

@ETpro Oh I wouldn’t dream of it good sir, didn’t want to spoil a good sound bite that’s all.

Paradox25's avatar

@JenniferP You’ve stated that you’re a nontrinitarian in another thread, so I’m sure you would be very familiar with religious intolerence. It does always seem that nontrinitarian Christians get a bad rap in America, or they’re not considered Christians by the trinitarian majority.

JenniferP's avatar

Yes that is true @Paradox25 A priest on yahoo answers told me I was going to Hellfire for not accepting it although other Catholics say that Catholicism doesn’t teach literal fire anymore. A priest’s brother told me that. And two nuns at the hospital I work at told me only really evil people go there. So I don’t know where I am going for believing that.

Jaxk's avatar

I’m always curious as to what the end game is for questions like this. Are we looking for complete elimination of religion from the country? When we are stating that a president can’t be elected unless they subscribe to some religious doctrine, does that mean we should outlaw or discard any ballot based on religious affiliation? I’m truly curious as to what outcome is desirable.

The USA is fairly unique in that the major founding principle was religious tolerance. Admittedly, I’m not familiar with every country’s founding principles so I may be taking a leap of faith here. The constitution restricts the establishment of any state religion. To my knowledge we have none. There is no clause that states we have freedom from religion. Everyone is free to believe what they wish. Is that the goal, to restrict what everyone is free to believe?

glacial's avatar

@Jaxk On the contrary: the “endgame” of religious freedom, if there is one, would be exactly the opposite of everything you’ve just suggested:

- not eliminating religion from the country
– stating the president can be elected whether or not he/she subscribes to some religious doctrine
– not outlawing or discarding ballots based on religious affiliation
– not to restrict what everyone is free to believe

Further to that last point, it would be better expressed “not to restrict what each of us is free to believe”, since presumably not everyone will believe in the same thing.

Jaxk's avatar

@glacial

I am not aware of any restriction currently on what you may or may not believe. I have no problem stating that the president can have any religious affiliation they want or none at all. Unfortunately it goes to his/her character, which is judged by each individual in the electorate. They have the freedom to judge it any way they wish. That’s what freedom is all about.

glacial's avatar

@Jaxk But judging someone, or deciding their “character” as you put it, by their religious affiliation is exactly the opposite of allowing that person religious freedom. If you are a Seventh Day Adventist, and I decide that you should not hold office because I judge that your faith somehow shows a lack of “character” as you put it, then you do not have religious freedom.

I should have the freedom to think whatever I like about your faith – but that should not prevent you from getting any job you wish, be it president or dogcatcher. My freedom of thought should not impinge on your freedom of religion.

Jaxk's avatar

@glacial

Nor should your religious affiliation restrict the way I judge you. If you are running for elected office, I may vote against you simply because your eyebrows are too bushy. My choice.

glacial's avatar

And I’m done. Huh, I lasted one more reply than I thought I would.

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