Religious Intolerance: United States Is more Tolerant than Europe

I hate it when this happens. I read a book review in yesterday's New York Times Sunday Book Review. If the review is accurate, the book is one of those books that I would probably hurl into the fireplace ... if I had a fireplace.

In order to be fair I have to buy the book (it's not available in Canada) but meanwhile I need to vent about it's probable content.

The book is The New Religious Intolerance by Martha C. Nussbaum and the review is by Damon Linker [Church, Temple, Mosque].

Here's the opening paragraphs of the review...
Mitt Romney’s stump speech during the Republican primaries was filled with appeals to his party’s conservative base, but none consistently inspired more heartfelt cheers than his promise to “stop the days of apologizing for success at home and ­never again apologize for America abroad.” The statement speaks to the widely held suspicion on the right that liberals in general, and Barack Obama in particular, prefer other forms of democracy ­(especially those that prevail in Europe) to the American way of life.

Martha C. Nussbaum’s new book could serve as Exhibit A in liberalism’s defense against this charge. The author of 17 previous books on a wide range of topics — from classical Greek philosophy and tragic drama to modern law, literature and ethics — Nussbaum is one of America’s leading liberal thinkers. In “The New Religious Intolerance,” she turns her attention to the rise of antireligious — and specifically anti-Muslim — zealotry since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Though she writes in her opening chapter that intolerance disfigures “all Western societies,” it quickly becomes clear that there have been far fewer incidents of bigotry in the United States than in Europe — because of America’s vastly superior approach to guaranteeing the rights of religious minorities. When it comes to freedom to worship, at least, Nussbaum is an unabashed proponent of American exceptionalism.
The essence of her thesis is that: (1) several European countries have laws prohibiting Muslim women from wearing the burqa in public, (2) The Swiss government bans the building of minarets outside mosques, and (3) The Norwegian mass murderer, Anders Behring Breivik, didn't like Muslims. The United States hasn't done any of these things. That's because Americans are much more tolerant of other religious beliefs than Europeans.

There are important ways in which the United States protects religious minorities ...
The core of the book explores three preconditions of securing religious liberty for minorities — and in all of them the United States does a much better job than Europe. First, a nation must commit itself to protecting the greatest possible freedom of conscience that is compatible with public order and safety — a principle that the United States codifies in the First Amendment’s disestablishment of religion and guarantee of religious free exercise....

The second precondition of religious liberty is an impartial and consistent civic culture. On this measure, Europe fares especially badly, as Nussbaum demonstrates by methodically exposing the double standards and bias at play in the arguments for banning the burqa.

Finally, there is the need for “sympathetic imagination” on the part of citizens. Here the United States has long taken the lead, cultivating respect for religious differences since the 17th century, when Roger Williams founded Rhode Island, the “first colony (anywhere in the world, it seems) in which genuine religious liberty obtained for all.” Nussbaum is particularly impressed with Williams’s respectful treatment of the Narragansett Indians, whose language and culture he struggled to understand at a time when most of the colonists thought of them as beasts or devils.
Wow! It's news to me that the United States is a paragon of religious tolerance but perhaps that's just my anti-American bias. (For the record, Roger Williams was English, not American, and most of the other colonies were somewhat less tolerant.1)

I tend to think of the USA as a place where religious groups want to restrict women's freedom of choice, infringe on the rights of gays and lesbians, oppose non-Christians (and suspected non-Christians) who run for office, rail against euthanasia, and ban the teaching of evolution.

I was under the impression that there are many states where being an non-fundamentalist Christian would be very uncomfortable. Many of these same states insist that the United States is a Christian nation and there are dozens of political leaders who imply that non-Christians are not real Americans. A majority of citizens see nothing wrong with posting the ten commandments in courtrooms, schools, and legislatures. They don't see anything wrong with reciting the Lord's prayer in schools or putting "In God We Trust" on their money (beginning in 1957).

I seem to recall a recent incident where five representatives of the United States House of Representatives expressed points of view that could be interpreted as possibly anti-Muslim [Michele Bachmann finds plenty of friends back home].

These all seem like pretty intolerant viewpoints to me. Am I wrong?

Apparently, Martha C. Nussbaum is a smart woman. Apparently that's why she says,
As Nussbaum notes, the American and European developments differ in important ways. Above all, she writes, nothing in the United States “even remotely approaches the nationwide and regional bans on Islamic dress in Europe, or the nationwide Swiss minaret referendum” — let alone an anti-Islamic massacre.
I guess I'll have to read the book to see if this is what she really thinks. I hate it when that happens.

1. New Amsterdam, the Dutch colony, was noted for religious tolerance. The French colonies in Canada (somewhat tolerant) were on very good terms with many native tribes. The Narragansett Indians were eventually converted to Christianity but not until many of them had been killed or shipped off to slavery in the Caribbean.
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