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A Conservative Case for Tolerance

Traditional conservative circles often decry tolerance. It’s regarded as a notoriously false virtue, a principle at the heart of America’s liberal intellectual ideology—and no wonder. The creed of superficial “acceptance” preached in Ivy League lecture halls across the nation has become a double standard. Liberal intellectual elites are wholly unafraid to behave intolerantly toward all who dare question the dogmatic tolerance they so espouse.

Yet traditional conservatives need not be too hasty in equating tolerance with hypocrisy. Tolerance is both useful and necessary in preserving freedom in the context of the modern democratic state. The necessity of tolerance pertains particularly to religious liberty—a cause advocated by many traditional conservatives. If advocates of religious liberty are truly advocating freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and (of course) freedom of religion, are they not also seeking tolerance toward their beliefs? 

I used to decry the popular “coexist” bumper sticker. It depicts a crescent, a star of David, and a cross, among other religious symbols. The bumper sticker seemed to make light of religious differences, illustrating the stance that men’s individuating religious aspects are either irrelevant or even perhaps non-existent. Yet I ignored a significant aspect of the bumper sticker’s message: In any political society, the dominance of a single religious group could potentially suppress (and historically has suppressed) the freedom other religious groups.  In the pre-modern, Western state, public preference for a single religion has proved both beneficial and oppressive toward the citizen. In religiously-diverse modern America, religious groups rely on tolerance for their very existence. Again—tolerance is useful and beneficial in this way. And when particular religious groups fall under attack in the public square, they react—and they react with gusto. 

On September 24, 2013 the Little Sisters of the Poor filed a lawsuit in the federal district of Denver, asking for relief from the Health and Human Services Mandate for all employers to provide employees with health insurance covering abortifacients. Abortifacients are directly opposed to the Catholic Church’s teaching on the dignity of human life. Furthermore, the Little Sisters would have to pay over $70 million in annual fines to the federal government should they opt not to provide employees with abortifacients. After two losses in the tenth circuit, a win after a SCOTUS emergency appeal, and a loss in the District Court, the Little Sisters’ case was heard on March 23, 2016 in the Supreme Court. Needless to say, the Little Sisters of the Poor have certainly put up a fight against the HHS’ apparent religious intolerance—and a good one at that.

According to the Little Sisters of the Poor, tolerance is something worth fighting for. And in our ideologically and religiously diverse modern state, tolerance is necessary and useful in ensuring freedom.  It’s certainly apparent what an intolerant society looks like: It’s imaged nearly every day in the elitist Liberal intellectual culture that so pervades academia, pop culture, and the public square. This culture shuns judgement, yet levies it upon all who dare contradict their position on “tolerance.” Judgement is necessary in ensuring the defense of a properly tolerant society—judgement on the duplicity of a judicial system that condemns freedom of religion and the First Amendment.


Madeleine is a sophomore studying philosophy and classics at Christendom College. A first honors student, she loves reading Plato, Thomas Aquinas, and Cicero. She is a staff writer for GenYize, a blog discussing solutions to challenges facing Generation Y, and was recently accepted to intern with the Media Research Center in Reston, VA. Madeleine is also a member of Christendom’s Cincinnatus League, the Eta Sigma Phi Classical Society, and the Christendom Chamber Orchestra.

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