A recent news story described how administrators at Yeshiva University, a private Orthodox Jewish institution in New York City, who despite a clearly held moral code, are being forced to retain a poetry professor who disclosed his intent to become transgendered only after being hired (New York Post, Sept. 8, 2008).This professor and supporters pursue a strategy aimed at forcing acceptance of unconventional behavior. Their tactic? Shout down, censor or label "intolerant" any whose convictions require opposition to their unconventional behavior. The result? The tyranny of tolerance.Note the online comments that followed the article. One wrote, "This is AMERICA. We have tolerence (sic). If you do not like it, move to another country. Sorry Rabbi's (sic), fortunately in this country we don't allow your prejudices to be covered under the ideaology (sic) of your religion. You have to join the rest of us. Ha ha! I love it."I might have overlooked this ditty as the rant of a loon. But then I scrolled down to another defaming the Yeshiva administrators as "people who have no room in their hearts for change." Others lambasted the leadership as being out of touch, domineering religionists and not progressive. Some proffered that truth and sin are only relative.
These aren't just untethered opinions or tactics to be conveniently ignored. No, there is purpose behind them. By craftily attacking standard-bearing institutions with cries of "intolerance," proponents of indulgence seek to brand faith-based principles as "discriminatory," and thereby degrade constitutional due process and the freedom of religion.New players, same argumentsLet us be clear, arguments for permissiveness aren't new, neither are they progressive. Book of Mormon religious and civic leader Alma once encountered a man named Korihor professing that neither God nor sin exist, and that "whatsoever a man did was no crime."This ancient relativist went further, contending that the morals of the day were baseless and the result of a "frenzied mind; and this derangement of your minds comes because of the traditions of your fathers ... "He, like his modern counterparts, spoke in "great swelling words" claiming that faith enslaves people and that all behaviors should be acceptable (Alma 30:12-30). Such philosophies swayed (and continue to sway) many into embracing confused lifestyles, purportedly without consequence.Today, strident advocates of this relativist dogma similarly mock believers in natural and scriptural law. These same "tolerance" dogmatists hypocritically use authoritarian lawsuits and manipulative media to try and force all institutions to retreat from any teaching or attitude advocates proclaim "intolerant."Reframing toleranceProperly framed civic tolerance stems from ideas core to our national identity: that all must respect the exercise of inalienable rights and ensure their fundamental protection in the constitution. But respect does not imply relativism -- indifference to or acceptance of all behavior -- nor does it negate the right of society to determine standards. Quite the opposite is true.Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy argued that "unbounded relativism as a civic philosophy soon becomes passivity and indifference: No judgments can be made, for it is impossible to place one set of values over another.
This is a far cry from toleration derived from a belief in universal rights. If, in the civic sphere, relativism swallows tolerance whole, belief in universal rights turns into no belief at all" (American Bar Association, August 2003, italics added).LDS Church leader Elder Russell M. Nelson adds, "Gracious tolerance for an individual does not grant him or her license to do wrong, nor does your tolerance obligate you to tolerate his or her misdeed" (Ensign, May 1994). We make no pretention of perfection, nor do we withhold compassion and understanding, but we do maintain our privilege to act on principle.In our constitutional democracy, we are duty-bound to respect the rights of others. But one's personal lifestyle choice or belief cannot obligate another to accept it morally or justify it legally.
Advocates use this corrupted concept of tolerance to forcefully erode standards and constitutional rights. For instance, a same-sex couple in New Jersey used this notion in a suit against the Methodist Church for refusing them access to its place of worship for their civil-union ceremony. Due to a recently enacted, sweeping anti-discrimination law, the judge ruled against the church and removed the tax-exempt status of its property, costing the church a reported $20,000 per year. The state's penalization of this church signals a simultaneous dismantling of societal boundaries and religious protection.These dogmatists must not be allowed to constrain the free exercise of religion, nor overrule the will of the majority by simply invoking "intolerance!" They have gone too far. It is not tolerance, it is tyranny.
by Matthew Sanders
For the Deseret News