The Amish, Catholics, Moslems

Scripps-Howard News Service 6.04.02
Balint Vazsonyi

First things first. This country was founded not simply by Christians. It was founded by a special American brand of Protestants. They were the ones who read the Old Testament along with the New; Greek philosophy and Roman law; English liberties and Scottish economics. They responded to Jewish requests thus: "no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States." This passage, promulgated in Article VI, is the true repository of our religious freedom, years before the First Amendment put it in so many words.

And the people came from every nook and cranny of the planet to see this miraculous place where all could worship freely. And they thrived under the big tent.

To escape extinction, the Amish had come in the hope of finding just such a place before it became reality, their expectations as modest as their lives. For them, time stands still, and progress is not the measure of happiness. They live in peace amongst themselves, and with their surroundings, however breathtaking the changes just inches away.

As set in their ways as the Amish are, they never formed a pressure group to promote their influence. They are not in the habit of lecturing the rest of us. Now, for the first time, they have occasioned a crisis - if you can call it that. Some Amish are refusing to mount the customary reflecting triangle on the back of their buggies, citing religious grounds. It may go to the Supreme Court, as did once their request to be exempt from certain state laws.

"Meek" is not a word that springs to mind when one thinks of the Roman Catholic Church. America must have been a bitter pill for a religion so used to being the only game in town or, failing that, the majority. But in America, Catholics had to learn religious tolerance, live under a secular law that applied equally to all, and become accustomed to their church having no say in matters of state.

It could not have been easy. For true Catholics, theirs still is the sole truly Christian faith. Yet, acceptance of reality resulted in peaceful coexistence with an almost infinite number of Christian denominations - not to mention the full gamut of non-Christian religions. When the time came for the first Roman Catholic to be elected president of the United States, John F. Kennedy proved no less committed to America and its principles than any of his predecessors.

True - remnants of the once-unrestricted power of The Church have recently surfaced in the ugly spectacle of rampant homosexual abuse directed at the young and defenseless. But, some recalcitrant office holders notwithstanding, America's Catholics are at one with the nation in their outrage, and demand for appropriate measures.

In the four counties where they live - two in Pennsylvania, two in Indiana - the Amish do represent a degree of physical hazard to motorists at night, and under foggy conditions. A more widespread, serious risk is now readily associated with Catholic clergy, especially acute in the case of pre-pubescent or adolescent boys. But in neither case need we worry about damage to the very fabric of our society.

And thus the case of Moslems living amongst us is very different.

The physical danger has been demonstrated in historic proportions. But long before the attack on America, only the terminally naive and politically brainwashed could overlook the evidence of decades. According to that evidence, Arab/Moslem communities provided fertile soil for violence, wanton cruelty, and utter disregard for human life all over the world - not as occasional outrages, but with incontestable frequency. And, no, we are not talking about the Middle Ages when "everybody was doing it;" we are talking about the second half of the twentieth century.

As we wait - apparently in vain - for those who speak for Arabs and Moslems in America to assure us that our neighbors represent a different soil, even more vexing questions emerge. How much of our open society do we have to sacrifice, how severely do we have to alter our entire way of life to offer opportunity, safety and comfort to people whose record causes such justifiable alarm?

And to what end?

Without a doubt, many of our Arab and Moslem neighbors intend to be decent, hard-working, law-abiding members of society. Without a doubt, some tenets of Islam advocate peace and goodwill among men. But reality is not what a spokesperson rehearses on television, but what we observe as the pattern.

That reality points to two issues of paramount significance. One is the indisputable double role of Islam in the soul of the believer: religion is law, and law is religion. Such a posture is simply incompatible with the American model.

The other is the true tolerance of all faiths, with which this discussion began. Let us now add the first half of that momentous passage in Article VI that prohibits religious tests: "[all] shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation to support this Constitution." The provision was intended for holders of public office, but now we ought to require it of all who live and vote in America. The price of coming here, of staying here needs to be unequivocal reciprocity in religious tolerance, and unreserved commitment to the rest of our founding principles.

The choice facing Moslems is unenviable. But it is theirs to make.

And then, there will be some the rest of us have to make.