In today’s society, the principle of tolerance has become the clarion call for people of diverse views, moral convictions and religious beliefs to live together with a sense of civility to one another. By its definition, tolerance is inclusive. It seeks to embrace all individuals in a society that does not condemn individuals simply because they are different. In terms of liberal secularists, tolerance is based on cultural diversity. It is a pragmatic way to keep the peace.
Yet, tolerance alone does not always work. The drive to equate same sex unions with marriage and to give them the same legal definition as marriage has also become an occasion for intolerance. Those who are committed to marriage as an institution designed by the Creator for a man and a woman are labeled discriminatory and unjust.
Most recently, this type of attitude surfaced during the Miss USA 2009 pageant. On April 20, 2009, one of the judges, Perez Hilton, who is quite open about his views, asked Carrie Prejean, Miss California, her view on legalizing gay marriage. Miss Prejean was not unaware of the trap that was being set for her. After affirming the freedom of choice that Americans enjoy, she went on to say, "…I believe that a marriage should be between a man and a woman. No offense to anybody there, but that's how I was raised and that's how I think it should be, between a man and a woman." Some in the audience booed her response, but others applauded even louder.
Miss California did not express an outrageous conviction. But Perez Hilton believes that her answer cost her the contest. His subsequent name calling of Miss California clearly revealed the inability to allow someone to disagree with the agenda that is behind the move to redefine marriage.
Miss Prejean should be commended for her honesty and integrity. Not everyone agrees. The Executive Director of Miss California USA/Teen USA has stated that he is "personally saddened and hurt that Miss CA USA 2009 believes marriage rights belong only to a man and a woman." In a word, there is no room for disagreement. Is this not a form of intolerance?
The issue of tolerance and intolerance on the issue of marriage is not an academic question. If society labels those who oppose the legalization of gay marriage intolerant and discriminatory, the trajectory is set to curtail religious freedom. Anti-discrimination laws can then be invoked to monitor and control churches in the areas of sex education in the schools, the hiring of employees, the use of church facilities and in many other areas.
In our culture, tolerance has come to mean different things for different groups. But it certainly does not mean neutrality. This is clearly the case in growing confrontation between the secularist agenda and the Catholic Church in terms of health care.
The Church has always favored responsible parenthood and has taught natural family planning as the moral means to achieve this goal. Based on the objective nature of human sexuality, the Church teaches that artificial contraception contradicts an authentic expression of marital love between a husband and a wife and, therefore, is morally unacceptable. For this reason, Catholic institutions do not include contraception in their health insurance for their employees. Up until recently, the laws included exemptions for conscientious objections clauses and protected the freedom of Catholics to live according to Catholic teaching in this area.
Today, however, secular liberals are experiencing great success in removing this freedom. At least eighteen states have enacted "contraceptive mandate" laws. The laws bear names such as The Women's Health and Wellness Act or The Women's Contraceptive Equity Act. These laws mandate health insurance plans to cover the costs of contraceptives. Any failure to do is punishable as discrimination.
Without the freedom to express one’s views and not be punished for them, without the freedom to hold to one’s moral and religious beliefs and live according, the dignity of the human person is denied and the common good of society itself is diminished.
Government does not have the right to treat believers as a "divisive minority whose rights must always yield to the minority secular agenda, especially when religious people are overwhelmingly in the majority" (Cardinal Pell, "Varieties of Intolerance: Religious and Secular," Divinity School of Oxford University, March 6, 2009).
Both Homer in the Odyssey and Virgil in the Aeneid relate the story of the Trojan horse. After a long, unresolved 10-year siege of Troy, the Greeks built a huge figure of a horse. Inside the horse, they left their warriors and sailed away. The Trojans took the horse into their city as a trophy for winning the war. During the night, the Greek warriors stealthily crept out of their hiding place, opened the city gates for the rest of the Greek army that had returned under the cover of dark and destroyed the city. What, at first, was seen as the sign of victory actually became the cause of defeat.
Today, our society has happily overcome many prejudices that divide us. We have managed to live in peace with people whose views and religions differ from one another. Secular liberals, however, market a truncated tolerance that leaves no room for those who oppose their secular agenda. If society welcomes such tolerance within its city gates, will it not be the Trojan Horse that brings the demise of a free society?
Printed with permission from the Diocese of Paterson, N.J.
* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.