Religious Freedom Laws Help Create Culture of Tolerance

August 26, 2008

Author: Louise Fenner

Source: News Blaze

An openness to immigration and laws protecting religious freedom helped create the conditions for religious tolerance in the United States, says an expert on immigration, religion and urban issues in America who has researched a neighborhood in New York City he calls "perhaps the most extreme case of religious pluralism in the world."

That neighborhood is Flushing, Queens, which encompasses more than 200 places of religious worship within 6.5 square kilometers. Queens is one of the five boroughs that make up New York City.

Flushing has become a model for religious pluralism in America, says R. Scott Hanson, a visiting assistant professor of history at the State University of New York at Binghamton and an affiliate of the Pluralism Project at Harvard University. He answered questions about religious diversity during an webchat August 19.

While many communities in the United States are religiously diverse, Hanson said, the dense concentration of houses of worship and absence of widespread religious conflict in Flushing make it special.

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects the right to worship freely or not worship at all, and prohibits the government from establishing a national religion. Hanson said the protection of these "basic rights" is essential in creating a culture of tolerance. (See "The Freedom to Worship and the Courts ( ).")

"The conditions for diversity seem to stem from a democratic government that permits immigration and protects religious freedom by law," he observed.

While the efforts of religious institutions and grassroots groups to promote tolerance are important, they are not enough, Hanson said. "In every major world religion, you can find a common message of tolerance, but I think a democratic government that protects religious freedom by law is the only way to guarantee this."