“Tolerance” Doesn’t Mean Driving Religion From The Public Square

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An unfortunate facet of very holiday season is the “War on Christmas,” both real and imagined. Some of it is over sensitivity. Some of it is an actual effort to expunge religion from the season. It can all get a little silly. And tiresome.

But one part of this annual debate that fascinates me is how often “tolerance” is invoked as a justification for stripping away the religious connotations from holiday events and displays. Case in point, in Rhode Island governor Lincoln Chaffee has canceled his state’s Christmas tree lighting ceremony because people objected to his renaming the “holiday tree.”

Why did he rename it? Because of the tolerance.

Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee has pulled the plug on the state’s annual tree lighting ceremony one year after he created a yuletide controversy by changing its name to a “holiday” tree.

The governor’s spokeswoman did not give a reason for the decision. But last year his office was flooded with thousands of telephone calls protesting the name change. Many citizens accused the Independent governor of trying to secularize Christmas.

At the time, Chafee said the name change was meant to honor the state’s origin as a sanctuary of religious tolerance.

People these days have a funny definition of “tolerance,” it seems. To me tolerance has always meant that you allow something to be, even if you don’t personally approve of it. Applying to that to the “War on Christmas” debate, shouldn’t tolerance mean that we’re going to accept that this is predominantly religious holiday, even if not everyone subscribes to that particular religion?

How does removing religious references and symbolism from the holiday season so that a vocal and easily-offended minority don’t have to see or hear them promote tolerance? Shouldn’t that work the other way around? Shouldn’t said minority tolerate the free expression of religion this time of year?

These debates always focus on religion in the public square. Christmas trees at state capitols. Christmas pageants in schools. The argument is that religion shouldn’t be in public spaces because it’s offensive to those who aren’t religion. Or, at least, aren’t of the religion in question. But that’s a patently intolerant view.

Of course religion should be in the public space. All religions should be welcomed into the public square. Because that, my friends, is what tolerance really is.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com. In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters. He writes a weekly column for several North Dakota newspapers, and also serves as a policy fellow for the North Dakota Policy Council.

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