The Front Blog

Conversations from the Four Rivers Region

Posts Tagged ‘american revolution

Our Peculiar History of Religious Tolerance

with 2 comments

by Todd Hatton

The vote has been taken and Mayfield, Kentucky will have no mosque, at least not yet, and certainly not in any location with so little parking.  What should have been decided in a formality was rejected on a technicality, but I can’t say that the lack of transparency with which Mayfield’s zoning board first decided to approve the mosque’s conditional use permit is ever a good thing.  On the other hand, it’s difficult to see how anyone can vote their dissenting conscience under the reproving glare of a roomful of one’s neighbors.

Whether or not the results of the zoning board’s vote surprised anyone, or whether or not we approve of the result, it is of a piece with our history of dealing with religious minorities.  I’m a big fan of the notion that we can’t understand our present without understanding our past, and when the controversy over a mosque in Mayfield began to appear, I went back to a book I’d read over a year ago after hearing an interview with the author on Krista Tippett’s Speaking of Faith program.

Steven Waldman is the author of Founding Faith: How Our Founding Fathers Forged a Radical New Approach to Religious Liberty and the CEO of Beliefnet.com, the largest faith and spirituality website.  The book, in the main, is about the development of the First Amendment, religious freedom, and today’s contention over the separation of church and state.  Waldman, however, begins his book by painting a picture of religion in early America.  It is at once alien to our modern sensibilities and a little too familiar.

For instance, government officials in one state blocked the building of place of worship for one religious minority.  They were responding to what was perceived as an existential threat by a sect that had, in the past, committed atrocities, fought them in wars, and, it was believed, behind the actions of foreign governments against them.

This wasn’t New York or Mayfield in 2010, it was Maryland in 1700.   Read the rest of this entry »