Religious tolerance essential to America

My turn

The Mesa Tribune/August 1998
By Mark Anderson

Last Sunday I came home from a weekend fishing trip with my family and opened up The Tribune. I was featured in a three-page article attacking me for being a member of a minority religion and suggesting that because of that I can't be trusted to represent all the people of my district.

I was first given the honor of representing the 29th District in the Arizona State Legislature in 1994. In the past four years, I have worked with moms and dads, teachers, ministers, college students, business people, social service providers and many fine public servants. It never occurred to me to ask what religion they were.

Arizona, like the rest of America, is part of a great experiment in democracy where we have learned to respect and be tolerant of each other's differences- sometimes at a great price. Our history includes a Civil War to end slavery and many bloody days in the civil rights era reminding ourselves that we are a country that believes that all people are created equal. Our Constitution goes on to confirm that conviction with force of law, which we as a people have adopted as our collective contract with one another.

My family settled in Arizona 40 years ago in 1958. In the public schools I learned that the Founding Fathers were very concerned about religious freedom. Thomas Jefferson counted the "Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom" in Virginia as one of his three greatest achievements in life. A South Carolina delegate to the Constitutional Convention of 1787 submitted to the Committee of Detail the following: "No religious test or qualification shall ever be annexed to any oath of office under the authority of the U.S." That suggestion was one of the guiding visions for the Bill of Rights.

Our history as a people in trying to achieve a truly tolerant society has been a struggle at times. Today's mainstream religions began as yesterday's misunderstood and persecuted minority religions. Our history includes Catholic priests being jailed, Methodist ministers shot, Baptists exiled from early colonies, a young Quaker woman hung in Boston Commons, and Mormon children murdered in Nome, Ill., simply because they were exercising their freedom of religion. And, in the case of the children, merely because their parents were members of a minority religion.

The writer of Sunday's story attacking my religious beliefs does the disservice of providing a venue for religious bigots who repeat the same prejudices that have been leveled against each new people and their religion as they became part of this great American tapestry. This was true of the early Christians in the Roman Empire, Jews at many points in their history, Catholics in the 1880s and again when John F. Kennedy, a Catholic, ran for president in the 1960s and Mormons, Methodists, Quakers, and Anabaptists, to name a few.

When John F. Kennedy ran for president, bigots handed out anti-Catholic pamphlets by the tens of thousands alleging that Kennedy could never be trusted as president because he owed his allegiance to the pope and a foreign power-the Vatican. Those same charges now have been leveled against me in Sunday's Tribune article.

Kennedy answered that criticism more eloquently than I when he stated ". . . I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant, nor Jewish . . . and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all. For while this year it may be a Catholic against whom the finger of suspicion is pointed, in other years it has been, and may someday be again, a Jew, or a Quaker, or a Unitarian or a Baptist.... Today, I may be the victim, but tomorrow it may be you, until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped at a time of great national peril."

I wish The Tribune well, and I will continue to advocate public policy that I believe reflects the values of the families and citizens in District 29.

Mark Anderson is a Republican member of the Arizona House of Representatives.

Response to Mark Anderson

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.