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Tolerance Essential to the American Way of Life


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I was asked to participate in a candlelight vigil Sunday (August 19) to call for religious tolerance in the wake of the tragic shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin earlier this month.

About 200 people gathered in Cincinnati at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. As we remembered the victims, I reflected on the fact that many religions share a core value: Love your neighbor.

I'm a practicing Catholic, but this tragedy has prompted me to learn about the Sikh religion. I encourage others to do likewise.

Followers of the Sikh religion, which was founded in India, believe in one God. Sikhs are taught that all men and women are created equal, and that all have the right to worship as they please. It is a religion that advocates peace.

But on a Sunday morning in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, five men and a woman who had gathered at a temple where they worshipped God were killed by a neo-Nazi. It's speculated that the gunman might have mistaken the victims for Muslims because Sikh men wear beards and turbans.

The shooter, an intolerant man who advocated hatred, was wounded by police before he killed himself.

It is incumbent on all of us to educate ourselves about Sikhism and other religions because education leads to understanding and acceptance. Ignorance breeds hatred.

Religious freedom was one of the principles upon which America was founded. The attack against those who worshipped at the Sikh temple was an assault on one of our nation's most cherished values.

These days, some Americans might take for granted the notion that all religions should be tolerated. Freedom to worship without government interference makes sense to most of us. But when this fundamental right was proposed during our nation's infancy, the debate was messy and mean.

In some colonies, Catholics were forbidden to hold public office. Baptist ministers were jailed. Jews weren't allowed to vote. Quakers were denied citizenship.

James Madison, principal architect of the U.S. Constitution, acknowledged the need for a passage on religious freedom -- what would become the First Amendment. "Religion and Government will both exist in greater purity the less they are mixed together," Madison wrote in 1822.

Tolerance of other religions, cultures, and views is essential to the American way of life.

In the wake of the senseless tragedy in Wisconsin, it's natural for people to search for explanations.

There is nothing logical about a gunman whose head is full of rage because of ignorance. But all of us, regardless of our religious or political beliefs, can pray for the victims and try to comfort their families.

And all of us, despite our differences, can love our neighbors.

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