- - Thursday, March 29, 2018


America’s greatness is around us. We are it. And sometimes it is worth restoring faith in it.

As the Christian holiday of Easter and Jewish Passover approach, many Americans will stop to ponder, if briefly, how important respect for each other’s religious faith really is. America was built on that cornerstone. Our destiny still rests on it.

Long before Hollywood, or modern media’s ready derogation of religion, America was founded by a daring generation of diehard Christians. Natural law, understanding that rights are timeless and God-given, not government-given, was — and remains — central to our Bill of Rights. No American is free without that understanding.

All religions are equally protected, so long as they do not aim to undermine, obviate or violate the freedom of another. On this foundation of respect for faith was built our broader concept of political pluralism, respect for all.

The Founders believed faith, Divine Providence, was central to our nation’s freedom, existence and destiny. They also believed that men and women should be allowed to come to their own views about God’s nature and requirements imposed by a loving God on them, as individuals. That was not government’s business.

Not long ago, every American, of whatever stripe and conviction, or lack thereof, understood this fact. Today, it seems to be slipping. Quickly.

To be sure, Christians have always been persecuted, back to ancient times. As have other faiths, including the Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist — at times to unconscionable, inhumane extremes.

There is a natural tension between those who feel bound by tenets of other-regarding faith, who draw great strength from the struggle to live by their faith, and those who feel no pull, or who consciously ignore or aver that struggle. Because, after all, having faith is hard.

But things are getting noticeably worse, and that is why the call to pause. Tolerance for deep convictions tied to faith, which in their purest form eschew pride and encourage humility, depend — in a free society — on respect.

If selflessness is its own guide, and needs nothing, a society that hopes for a larger, other-regarding nature needs to understand itself, and to consciously value this about itself. America seems increasingly uneducated about why respect for faith, let alone faith itself, matters.

A national network spokesperson, ABC, glibly mixes political disaffection for America’s vice president and what he believes, with her overt prejudice toward his faith and says Christianity is now a mental illness.

Saint Paul felt that sting, and yet one somehow imagined that respect for the cornerstone of American pluralism would not lead an educated woman, long in the media spotlight, to derogate so crudely the faith of 180 million fellow Americans.

A symbolic cross, erected after deep American losses in World War I to remember the faith and selflessness of Americans — largely Christians, then and now — who went to war for our Bill of Rights, is suddenly decried. After a hundred years, one self-appointed critic in robes tells an American community, in Bladensburg, Maryland, they must tear it down.

Across the country, Christians who live by a moral code that sustained the nation through war and peace, and is reflected in our Bill of Rights, are derided and coerced to support ideas they cannot in good conscience subscribe to, told that they must change their convictions, to match modern mores.

All this is not as the Founders intended, and not consistent with the sublime document we call our Constitution.

As much as we all should respect each other, and understand the case-by-case nature of balancing equal protection against individual liberty, we also need to recall that without respect for each other’s faiths, we have nothing, we are no better than the morally destitute Roman Empire at its worst.

The unspoken truth, which now and then needs speaking, is that respect for each other’s faiths — of course, including those who individually choose not to believe — is central to what America is, and will always be a distinguishing feature of our greatness.

How else can we say this? How else can the significance be underscored? Our past, present and the shape of our common future depend on this understanding. Whether you, today’s reader, are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, agnostic or atheist, whether you are liberal or conservative, for or against any given political priority, there is no better time than the lead-up to Easter and Passover, or just the vernal equinox and God’s gift of eternal spring, to give thanks — that you are an American, where your faith, at least for now, remains yours and yours alone, inviolate by design, precious and protected by all. That, in a nutshell, is America’s greatness.

Robert Charles is a former assistant secretary of state for international narcotics and law enforcement in the George W. Bush administration.

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