The Amish, Catholics, Moslems
Scripps-Howard News Service 6.04.02
First things first. This country was founded not simply by Christians.
It was founded by a special American brand of Protestants. They
were the ones who read the Old Testament along with the New; Greek
philosophy and Roman law; English liberties and Scottish economics.
They responded to Jewish requests thus: "no religious Test
shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public
Trust under the United States." This passage, promulgated in
Article VI, is the true repository of our religious freedom, years
before the First Amendment put it in so many words.
And the people came from every nook and cranny of the planet to
see this miraculous place where all could worship freely. And they
thrived under the big tent.
To escape extinction, the Amish had come in the hope of finding
just such a place before it became reality, their expectations as
modest as their lives. For them, time stands still, and progress
is not the measure of happiness. They live in peace amongst themselves,
and with their surroundings, however breathtaking the changes just
As set in their ways as the Amish are, they never formed a pressure
group to promote their influence. They are not in the habit of lecturing
the rest of us. Now, for the first time, they have occasioned a
crisis - if you can call it that. Some Amish are refusing to mount
the customary reflecting triangle on the back of their buggies,
citing religious grounds. It may go to the Supreme Court, as did
once their request to be exempt from certain state laws.
"Meek" is not a word that springs to mind when one thinks
of the Roman Catholic Church. America must have been a bitter pill
for a religion so used to being the only game in town or, failing
that, the majority. But in America, Catholics had to learn religious
tolerance, live under a secular law that applied equally to all,
and become accustomed to their church having no say in matters of
It could not have been easy. For true Catholics, theirs still is
the sole truly Christian faith. Yet, acceptance of reality resulted
in peaceful coexistence with an almost infinite number of Christian
denominations - not to mention the full gamut of non-Christian religions.
When the time came for the first Roman Catholic to be elected president
of the United States, John F. Kennedy proved no less committed to
America and its principles than any of his predecessors.
True - remnants of the once-unrestricted power of The Church have
recently surfaced in the ugly spectacle of rampant homosexual abuse
directed at the young and defenseless. But, some recalcitrant office
holders notwithstanding, America's Catholics are at one with the
nation in their outrage, and demand for appropriate measures.
In the four counties where they live - two in Pennsylvania, two
in Indiana - the Amish do represent a degree of physical hazard
to motorists at night, and under foggy conditions. A more widespread,
serious risk is now readily associated with Catholic clergy, especially
acute in the case of pre-pubescent or adolescent boys. But in neither
case need we worry about damage to the very fabric of our society.
And thus the case of Moslems living amongst us is very different.
The physical danger has been demonstrated in historic proportions.
But long before the attack on America, only the terminally naive
and politically brainwashed could overlook the evidence of decades.
According to that evidence, Arab/Moslem communities provided fertile
soil for violence, wanton cruelty, and utter disregard for human
life all over the world - not as occasional outrages, but with incontestable
frequency. And, no, we are not talking about the Middle Ages when
"everybody was doing it;" we are talking about the second
half of the twentieth century.
As we wait - apparently in vain - for those who speak for Arabs
and Moslems in America to assure us that our neighbors represent
a different soil, even more vexing questions emerge. How much of
our open society do we have to sacrifice, how severely do we have
to alter our entire way of life to offer opportunity, safety and
comfort to people whose record causes such justifiable alarm?
And to what end?
Without a doubt, many of our Arab and Moslem neighbors intend to
be decent, hard-working, law-abiding members of society. Without
a doubt, some tenets of Islam advocate peace and goodwill among
men. But reality is not what a spokesperson rehearses on television,
but what we observe as the pattern.
That reality points to two issues of paramount significance. One
is the indisputable double role of Islam in the soul of the believer:
religion is law, and law is religion. Such a posture is simply incompatible
with the American model.
The other is the true tolerance of all faiths, with which this
discussion began. Let us now add the first half of that momentous
passage in Article VI that prohibits religious tests: "[all]
shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation to support this Constitution."
The provision was intended for holders of public office, but now
we ought to require it of all who live and vote in America. The
price of coming here, of staying here needs to be unequivocal reciprocity
in religious tolerance, and unreserved commitment to the rest of
our founding principles.
The choice facing Moslems is unenviable. But it is theirs to make.
And then, there will be some the rest of us have to make.