Mona Charen

Tim Penny-Vin Weber Distinguished Fellows Series Center of the American Experiment

Radisson Plaza Hotel Minneapolis, Minnesota July 9, 1996


Much is rightly made, needless to say, about the importance of sensitivity on the part of religious majorities. But what about the importance of tolerance on the part of religious minorities when it comes to public expressions of spiritual belief by those in the majority?

This was the question I asked columnist Mona Charen to address at a Tim Penny-Vin Weber Distinguished Fellows program last July. I did so because I had been impressed with her discernment-- and not insignificantly, her courage -- in an earlier column on the topic.

Might she (a religious minority herself, as am I) expand her arguments in a Center speech given that Vin and Tim were focusing, in 1996, on religion in Minnesota's public square?

How did she do? As I trust you'll agree, rarely does a speaker hew so faithfully and -- once again -- so bravely to a demanding charge. Her paper is an important contribution to our society's perpetual work of expanding and deepening religious tolerance -- albeit made in this instance from an unconventional angle. My great thanks to her.

Here are samples of what Ms. Charen had to say that morning, both in her formal text, "Morality in a Pluralistic Society," and in an especially strong conversation afterwards with Tim, Vin, and the audience:

Americans, I would submit, have learned how to stand up for their rights. They know how really well. They know how too well. It's time to relearn the virtues of sitting down and shutting up. . . .

I am Jewish and can well recall being a little discomfited by being asked to sing Christmas carols in school. On the one hand, I loved Christmas carols. I still do. . . . But while I really enjoyed Christmas carols, I was an earnest little kid, and very attached to my identity as Jewish, so when we came to lyrics in certain carols like "Christ is the Lord," I squirmed.

But believe it or not, I didn't sue the school district! I simply didn't sing those words.

"Minorities," she said,

owe themselves and the majority a sense of proportion. It is certainly reasonable to ask the majority to be respectful of minority viewpoints. It is unreasonable to demand that the majority stop being what they are. . . . It's fair to say "make room"; it's not fair to say "make yourselves over."

Likewise, she concluded:

Minorities have an obligation to maintain their own traditions without imposing upon the majority. Just because Christians are the majority doesn't mean they've lost all claim to courtesy and consideration. We have become a nation of killjoys, ready to pounce on careless Christians who slip Christianity into the public domain. We would do well to consider that the country the majority created is a pretty good one, a pretty just one, and a pretty open one. Perhaps a degree of gratitude is owed.

Mona Charen's column appears in more than 200 newspapers nationwide and she is a regular on CNN's "Capital Gang Sunday." A lawyer by training, she started her career at National Review magazine and later held several jobs in the Reagan Administration. She and her husband live in the Washington area with their three children.

This is the second of three papers to come out of Vin and Tim's 1996 series on religious expression in public spheres. (Their 1997 focus is on finding the right balance in matters multicultural.)

In September, we published "Redeeming Troubled Lives and Communities: Why Spiritually Driven Programs Work Best," by Robert L. Woodson, Sr. Up next will be "Civil Rights and Social Cooperation," by Fr. Robert A. Sirico. In addition, in October, we released "Renewing American Compassion," by Marvin Olasky, which he delivered at an American Experiment Luncheon Forum last April.

Taken with Ms. Charen's essay, I am very proud of these four papers, as they serve as reminders that effective public policy is rooted in profound questions of values and meaning, not just in antiseptic calculations of simpler costs and benefits.

American Experiment members receive free copies of almost all Center publications, including "Morality in a Pluralistic Society." Additional copies of this essay are $4 for members and $5 for nonmembers. Bulk discounts are available for schools, civic groups and other organizations. Please note our phone and address on the previous page for membership and other information.

Thanks very much, and as always, I very much welcome your comments.

Mitchell B. Pearlstein
January 1997


The pedigree of religious pluralism is quite long.

In 1790, the Jews of Newport, Rhode Island wrote to George Washington to express gratitude that the United States gave "to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance." This was quite a departure from the Jewish experience in Europe and the rest of the world where states and kings often did the reverse. Washington's reply reveals what is special about this country. He didn't say "you're welcome." He didn't say "just keep your noses clean and you can expect more of the same." His answer conveyed that the new American republic was something more than tolerant. It was inclusive. Washington said:

[T]he citizens of the United States have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy, a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent rights. May the children of the stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants, while everyone shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.

Washington sent equally eloquent messages to the Catholics, the Presbyterians, the Baptists, and others. (Since I'm in Minnesota, I should note that he didn't include the Lutherans. But I'm sure that was just an oversight.)

Of course, the history of religious tolerance in America is hardly unblemished. The Puritans in New England may have been seeking religious freedom, but that was for Puritans. It certainly didn't apply to say, Quakers. The Mormons were persecuted and exiled, Jews suffered bullying and exclusion, and Catholics were reviled.

But the enlightened men who drafted the Constitution -- and the enlightened electorate who ratified it -- were certain that the stain of religious bigotry would be minimized in the new nation. And it was. Religious pluralism was codified in the First Amendment, and with rare exceptions, religious freedom has flourished on this continent.

A "wall of separation"?

But talk of a "wall of separation" between church and state -- so popular in our time -- actually misconceives the intent of the framers. They didn't want to prevent religion from contaminating politics -- nor, as has sometimes been suggested, were they attempting to keep politics from contaminating religion. As Bill Bennett has written, they were attempting to do something a little more subtle and a little more tricky. As Thomas Jefferson wrote to James Madison, "by bringing the sects together . . . We shall soften their asperities, liberalize and neutralize their prejudices, and make the general religion a religion of peace, reason, and morality."

By keeping all religious sects and denominations in a position of equality -- with no state church achieving primacy -- they not only prevented the tyranny of one over the many, but also hoped to enlarge the aspects of religion that stress mutual respect and harmony -- which would, in turn, conduce to the creation of political comity.

But they were clearly not attempting to keep religion out of government. In fact, they had great respect and reverence for religion and didn't believe that the American experiment in self-government could succeed without it. In his farewell address, George Washington said, "of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion."

John Adams didn't believe in a wall of separation. He said, "our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other." James Madison agreed, saying "he who would be a citizen in civil society must first be considered a subject of the divine governor of nature."

Even Thomas Jefferson, who wrote those famous words about a wall of separation, asked, "can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God?"

The first United States Congresses did not shrink from endorsing religious influence on politics. They voted to create chaplaincies for the Congress, and the Army and Navy. The same Congress that adopted the First Amendment also adopted the Northwest Ordinance, which reads, "religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and means of learning shall forever be encouraged." The Supreme Court, then as now, opens with a court officer pronouncing "God save the United States and this honorable court."

The Founders didn't want any one church to achieve primacy in America, but they did think self-government required a religious people. As Tocqueville wrote, "I do not know whether all Americans have a sincere faith in their religion -- who can search the human heart? -- but I am certain that they hold it to be indispensable to the maintenance of republican institutions."

Self-government requires far more of people than other forms of government. It requires temperance, thrift, industry, and honesty. Those are traits that are extremely difficult to instill without the help of religion -- as we are finding in our secular age. Religion, at least the great western religions, also provide the moral and spiritual foundations of democracy. It is no accident that democracy grew and flourished in the Christian part of the world and not in Asia, Africa, or the Americas before Columbus. Democratic ideas -- true democratic ideas, not the elite plutocracy of ancient Greece -- rely for their foundation upon the concept of being equal before God. Judaism and Christianity both stress that the laws, God's laws, apply to the mighty as well as to the meek.

Clearly the Founders were keen to avoid inter-church strife and religious tyranny of any kind. The Constitution they designed worked beautifully to achieve the ends they desired. We have had no history of religious tyranny in America. There has been no official persecution of any church or sect. And while unofficial persecution has nevertheless bubbled up from time to time, it has had nothing like the ferocity of Europe's ancient hatreds.

Perhaps the most persistent prejudice was shown against Catholics. In the 1850s, anti-immigrant and anti-Catholic sentiment was strong enough to germinate a new party, the Know-Nothings. The platform of the Know-Nothing Party spoke ominously of Roman Catholic priests seeking to interfere with U.S. elections, of Catholic societies communicating with one another, and of Catholic immigrants behaving in a violent and riotous manner. Abraham Lincoln, in characteristic fashion, went to the heart of the matter:

I am not a Know-Nothing [he wrote]. That is certain. How could I be? How can anyone who abhors oppression of Negroes be in favor of degrading classes of white people? Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we began with "all men are created equal." We now practically read it "all men are created equal except Negroes." When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read "all men are created equal except Negroes and foreigners and Catholics." When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretense of loving liberty -- to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, without the base alloy of hypocrisy.

"Attacking the very presence of religion in public life"

While the Founders dealt brilliantly with the problems of religious tyranny and destructive competition among sects, they did not envision and could not have predicted what we have to deal with in the late Twentieth Century. They couldn't have imagined the ACLU, aggressive secularists, interfering judges, and lawsuit-mad citizens combining to attack the very presence of religion in public life.

They would have laughed, or perhaps cried, to read the Supreme Court's 1971 opinion that state-sponsored holiday displays could be considered constitutional only if they bore little relation to God. They would certainly have hooted at the 1984 decision in Lynch v. Donnelly.

Pawtucket, Rhode Island had been sued for displaying a creche on state property. The nine robed ones said the creche passed constitutional muster, but only because the holiday display also featured "a Santa Claus house, reindeer pulling Santa's sleigh, candy-striped poles, a Christmas tree, carolers, cut-out figures representing such figures as a clown, an elephant, and a teddy bear, hundreds of colored lights, and a large banner reading 'Season's Greetings.'" In other words, to paraphrase Robert Bork, you can erect religious symbols, but only if you surround them with enough nonsense to drain them of meaning.

In another recent case, Lee v. Weisman, the court ruled that high school seniors could not hear an invocation by a rabbi, lest they feel "peer pressure" to stand or "maintain respectful silence" during the prayer. I kid you not. That was the danger Justice Anthony Kennedy was worried about. It gives you a sense of the spirit of our age when it is considered unconstitutional for an 18-year-old to show respect.

I submit that in this age of lawsuits and liability, secularism, and excessive fastidiousness about rights at the expense of all other values, we have to start thinking about religious tolerance in a new way. I think we need to start thinking about the obligations of minorities toward the majority.

Minority obligations

The concept of the self-conscious minority is actually rather new in America. There have always been minorities of one sort or another. But they saw themselves as part of the American patchwork, not as alien from it. In Will Herberg's landmark study of American religion, Protestant, Catholic, Jew, published in 1955, he observed, in a footnote, words that sound strangely quaint today: "The term minorities," he wrote "is singularly inappropriate to American reality. It was borrowed from the vocabulary of European nationalism during World War I, and has virtually no meaning in a country where, on the one hand, everyone belongs to a minority of some sort, and, on the other, no permanent and self-perpetuating national minorities of any size are known."

Of course, now, 41 years later, there is nothing more chic than to be a minority. There is glory in perceived persecution. And where none exists, as against women (the majority minority), it is freely invented. If you are a woman and don't realize that you are oppressed, it's only because you have absorbed the mindset of the phallocentric patriarchy.

Well, anyway, we know that under our constitutional and moral system, the majority has an obligation to respect the conscience and the inherent rights of minorities. What do minorities owe to majorities?

Let me tell you the story of 16-year-old Rachel Bauchman of Salt Lake City, Utah. Rachel was the only Jew in her high school choir, and she objected to singing two Christmas songs for the winter show. She complained to the administration, saying she wanted more "balance" in the musical selections. The administration didn't agree to that but made a counter offer. "Listen," they said, "If you don't feel comfortable singing these songs, fine. You can spend choir practice time in the library, and it won't affect your grade."

"No," said Bauchman, who then proceeded to do what any normal, red-blooded American teenager has been taught to do -- she sued. A judge enjoined the choir from singing Christmas songs.

Many American Jews would side with Bauchman. They have been persuaded that Jews are in danger in America if any expression whatsoever of Christian spirit is permitted in the public domain. Richard John Neuhaus, author of The Naked Public Square quoted a Reform rabbi as saying, "when I hear the words 'Christian Nation' I see barbed wire."

"This is a curious view of Christianity," Neuhaus wrote in response. "In this view the high points, sometimes the only points, of two millennia of Christian history are the blood curse upon the Jews, the Crusades, the Inquisition, and the Holocaust. This way of telling the Christian story is not unlike telling the story of America exclusively in terms of Salem witch-hunts, Indian massacres, slavery, the Ku Klux Klan, and alleged preparations for a nuclear first strike."

Perhaps that is the way Rachel Bauchman sees Christianity, perhaps not. But she certainly knows that the United States has now created a legal regime hospitable to claims like hers. "This is linked to the larger struggle to protect minority rights," said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, of Bauchman's suit.

But that is stretching the concept of "rights" beyond any reasonable interpretation. Ms. Bauchman's rights were in no way endangered by being asked to sing a couple of Christmas songs, even highly religious ones if there were such. And unless the Supreme Court finds a right to sing in high school choirs in the Constitution, her rights would certainly not have been implicated if she had exercised the option of sitting out choir practice in the library for a few weeks.

Rights and feelings

Rights are not the issue in her case -- feelings are. As events unfolded, when the winter program was finally performed, members of the audience -- overwhelmingly Mormon -- angry that the court had intervened, began to sing one of the forbidden songs a cappella. The choir joined in, and Bauchman rushed from the stage, feeling, as she later told The New York Times, "extremely horrible."

With all due respect to Ms. Bauchman, I would submit that she brought this on herself. She was, let's recall, the only Jew in the choir. Yet she felt entitled to ask for "balance" in the musical selections. Failing that, she tried to force the majority to bend to her wishes.

Americans, I would submit, have learned how to stand up for their rights. They know how really well. They know how too well. It's time to relearn the virtues of sitting down and shutting up. If one student is uncomfortable singing Christmas carols, there are ways around this short of a major confrontation.

I am Jewish and can well recall being a little discomfited by being asked to sing Christmas carols in school. On the one hand, I loved Christmas carols. I still do. And I still sing along with all of them when I'm in a department store at Christmas time -- though I'm sure I get a lot of the words wrong. But while I really enjoyed Christmas carols, I was an earnest little kid, and very attached to my identity as Jewish, so when we came to lyrics in certain carols like "Christ is the Lord," I squirmed.

But, believe it or not, I didn't sue the school district! I simply didn't sing those words. In a choir of 30 or 40 kids, one voice falling silent for a few seconds is not noticeable. I felt true to my beliefs, and a constitutional crisis was averted.

But these days, Jewish children, atheists, and others think the constitutional order depends upon cleansing any reference to religion from national life. Perhaps the most old-fashioned expression in America today is "don't make a federal case out it." We make federal cases out of everything.

It is never religious Jews, by the way, who bring cases like this challenging the constitutionality of creches or carols. Religious Jews are so well grounded in their own faith that they do not feel threatened by that of others. It is secular Jews who worry about what "oh come all ye faithful" will do to their children.

Minorities owe themselves and the majority a sense of proportion. It is certainly reasonable to ask the majority to be respectful of minority viewpoints. It is unreasonable to demand that the majority stop being what they are. I think that's what these holiday cases amount to -- a demand that Christians stop acting Christian because they might offend Jews, atheists, Buddhists, or whatever. It's fair to say "make room"; it's not fair to say "make yourselves over."

We are told constantly that the nation is becoming multicultural and that the white Christian majority will be obsolete in a few years. But the United States has long been a multicultural nation. Remember the old boast that New York had more Irish than Dublin, more Jews than Tel Aviv, and more Italians than Rome?

The difference today is that minorities, whether linguistic, ethnic, national, or imagined (as in the case of women) are not seeking to assimilate. They are seeking to indict and delegitimize the majority.

Minorities have an obligation to maintain their own traditions without imposing upon the majority. Just because Christians are the majority doesn't mean they've lost all claim to courtesy and consideration. We have become a nation of killjoys, ready to pounce on careless Christians who slip Christianity into the public domain. We would do well to consider that the country the majority created is a pretty good one, a pretty just one, and a pretty open one. Perhaps a degree of gratitude is owed.

A Conversation with Vin Weber, Tim Penny and the Audience

Vin Weber: You are a Jew, a woman, and a journalist. The organized, professional feminist community is inhospitable to your points of view. Please share how you have been received, treated, welcomed, or abused by your co-religionists, your fellow journalists, and by women's organizations.

Charen: I guess I'm a glutton for punishment. Most American Jews vote the Democratic line pretty consistently, more consistently than any other American group except African-Americans. But as you know, I'm a strong conservative. When I joined the synagogue to which I now belong, a woman asked me to join the synagogue's women's group. I said, "Great, tell me about it." She said, "Oh, we do the greatest things. We are involved in community service, and we testified against Robert Bork." I said, "Well, I think I'll pass." But I have since given talks at my synagogue, and they have managed to hear me out without tar and feathering me. So, there is a minority within the Jewish community that does take a more conservative point of view.

As a woman, of course, I said I was not a real minority, because women are a majority of the country. Further, I think that the whole notion that women have been persecuted in this country is laughable. If you look around the world at what women have to endure, it's remarkable how much freedom and autonomy we enjoy. I also think most women in the United States are not actually feminists in the sense that NOW [the National Organization for Women] is, and that the majority of American women cannot be spoken for. They are too diverse. They're too many human beings. You can't say that anybody speaks for women. It's like trying to speak for men.

And finally, journalists. Look, it's a myth to say that there are no conservative journalists in Washington. There are seven. We get together and have a good old time.

Tim Penny: Americans are religious and respect religious pluralism. We've also structured our government to protect against the tyranny of the majority. You have given several examples of where we have had court rulings that take things too far. At some point, your view of majoritarian policy is going to bump up against the pluralism that we want to respect. Where do we appropriately draw the line?

Charen: We do an excellent job of protecting the rights of the minority. As a historical note of interest, it was not considered a problem in the early days of this republic for states to have established churches. Several states did. It was only forbidden for the federal government to establish a state church. But we would clearly cross the line if in the Utah case the majority had insisted that the Jewish girl sing those songs. They owed her some deference and respect for her differing religious tradition.

Also, it used to be the case at the military academies that chapel was mandatory. Well, for people who don't profess a religion, that might be considered going too far. We want to respect the conscience of all the citizens of the United States, whatever their religious views or lack of religious views may be.

Harold Cragg: Do you perceive a new religion in humanism?

Charen: So many modes of thought are characterized as religious because they partake of certain religious qualities. Environmentalism has been described as a new religion. When people attach themselves so fervently to something, it almost begins to resemble worship. But I think that those are basically metaphors. They are not truly religions. But there are people who become attached to certain modes of belief in an almost religious style. I would say that about humanism.

Mitch Pearlstein: Would you draw any distinctions between institutional Jewry -- for example, the American Jewish Committee, American Jewish Congress, and Anti-Defamation League -- in the way they've reacted to what you have been writing as opposed to rank and file folks?

Charen: Yes, there is some difference between the organized leadership of the Jewish community and the rank and file, but not a great difference. There's a little more diversity in the rank and file. But I also see a generational difference among Jews. The older generation -- the generation that lived through the Depression and World War II -- is firmly wedded to the Democratic Party and liberal ideas for very understandable reasons. Throughout European history, was a long-standing tradition of the liberal parties being much more tolerant of Jews and more willing to free Jews from very restrictive laws, while the right-wing parties in Europe were almost always anti-Semitic.

That history has been carried over into this country. But younger Jews have a much different perception. They have lived through the era of the New Left, of the Democratic Party's embrace of the Palestinians. At the 1984 Democratic Convention, there was actually going to be a Jesse Jackson-sponsored platform plank about the Palestinians debated on the floor and voted on. Many younger Jews had cause to wonder if the Democratic Party was fully reflecting their views. They began to feel that maybe the Democratic Party was not always their friend. So, I definitely see a difference in the generations.

Albert Maruggi: Professional basketball player Mamoud Abdul-Rauf is a Moslem who refused on religious grounds to stand during the National Anthem. What is your view on how the NBA handled his case?

Charen: The professional basketball team he played for is a private organization, so it is not bound by any of the restrictions on how states behave or state entities behave. So it becomes a matter of manners on both sides. It seems to me that he should be free not to say the Pledge of Allegiance if he feels it violates his religious principles, though I know of no religion that this does violate. If he chooses not to say it, that is his wish. But I think that it was his obligation to stand in respectful silence for the National Anthem. This is his country. These are his teammates. These are their beliefs. He has an obligation to show some deference and some courtesy. Don't make a federal case of it.

Chris Dahl: We in the general media face the same issues at Christmas that you have been talking about. We play Christmas carols, and our Jewish friends call up and say we're playing too many. It's very difficult to take a road that is one of equality in the general media today. How do you feel that is being played out on the overall canvas of America? What can be done differently to really endorse a moral value that underpins everything we do?

Charen: Each community is going to celebrate the holidays and conduct its public and civic life in its own way, based upon the content of its citizenship. Spanish traditions and holidays are going to be celebrated in the Southwest more than in other parts of the country. Polish events are going to be very popular in Detroit. Jewish events are very popular in New York and are recognized as such by the media. That's the way it should be. We should have individual communities that respect one another and have their own traditions.

There isn't any one American way of doing those things as long as everybody also respects that this country was founded by Christians. The reason they founded it was in part because they were believing Christians. They have created a country that allows the flourishing of all of these other minority points of view and expressions. This is a basically Christian country and there is no harm in acknowledging that and being grateful for it.

Weber: The people on the other side of the argument proclaim that Thomas Jefferson was a deist, and they dispute the whole notion that the founders were Christians. Give us a history lesson on that.

Charen: Well, Jefferson was a deist, but he wasn't the only one and he wasn't the only Founder. George Washington was a Christian. Most of the founders were Christians or at least considered themselves to be the inheritors of the great Christian tradition. Why would these people sail across a very wild ocean, at a time when it took three months of perilous and often deadly travel to get to the New World, only to establish themselves in a country where the winters were harsher than anything they had every experienced? They did it because they believed that they were fulfilling God's mandate to build -- as John Winthrop said and Ronald Reagan so famously quoted -- a shining city on a hill.

They were going to build a new society that would be the best expression of Christianity, the purest expression of Christianity. Those Puritans who first came here needed to learn a little bit about religious tolerance. But with time they did, and this country was founded by those who understood the importance of our Christian heritage, but who also recognized that the days of religious tyranny in Europe were past and that this was going to be a new kind of democracy, a new kind of republic.

I didn't learn this, by the way, from my high school text books, which told me that this country was founded by John Locke, some French philosophers, and by Thomas Jefferson the deist. The fact is that most of the Founders called upon Christian tradition and Christian thinking and were molded by the Protestant thinkers of Western Europe who stressed the importance of the individual's relationship to God. That relationship to God was considered very important in Protestant Christianity and that relationship was the key to political bureaucracy in the United States. The individual was responsible for himself and was capable of governing himself and, therefore, we could be a self-governing people.

Carol Simmons: My question is in support of religious freedom. Do you think that legislation is necessary to uphold where our country has come to versus where it was founded, such as the religious freedom act or constitutional amendment?

Charen: I think we have far too many constitutional amendments floating around at the moment. It's become fashionable to have a constitutional amendment on every subject. I think we should be very serious about changing the complexion of the courts, because judges are making our law these days to the point where it has almost become frivolous to say that we live by a constitution.

If the judges say that the Constitution is whatever we say it is, then we don t live by a constitution. Then we live by judges. It is very important that the people be educated to vote with the appointment of judges in mind, and they ought to be educated to vote for candidates who promise to appoint judges who respect constitutional reasoning, who respect the original vision of the Founders and not just their own whims.

David Pence: I want to ask about our public life and our own self-censorship of religious expression. For instance, we talk about school prayer. How often do people pray in restaurants? How often do journalists write about God or about the fact that people have souls? How often do radio stations play Christian music? A radio is not a government agency, and journalists are not agents of the government. There is a tremendous amount of self-censorship by all of us in terms of using religious language in talking about problems. I'd like you to comment on that.

Secondly, do we have an obligation as believing Christians to try to start cleaning up our public language and asking for some kind of reverence and respect to the name of God and to the name of Christ?

Charen: On the subject of prayer in schools, George Will said there will always be prayer in schools as long as there are mathematics exams. The reason for self-censorship is that the Supreme Court has an enormous influence on how we conduct our lives. Its opinions have ripple effects beyond just the narrow case at hand. When the Supreme Court says it is unconstitutional to post the Ten Commandments in the school room, when it says you cannot have any prayer at all, not even voluntary, it has a ripple effect, and people begin to think, "OK, I guess the only way to be good citizens in this democracy is to keep our religion so closely held that we only whisper it to our children at home or, perhaps, to our dearest friends, because otherwise we might be offending the Constitution.

There is a lot of self-censorship, but it is a consequence of Supreme Court decisions and the spirit that has grown up around the ACLU and others who would urge us to believe that all religious expression has to be a completely private matter.

Weber: I am certainly not a member of the ACLU, but they did, for instance, defend the Nazis and they have occasionally taken on what from a standpoint of their membership would be very unpopular causes to have this purist devotion to free speech. How come that doesn't extend to religious speech? Why can they defend Nazis and not Christians?

Charen: I think they have missed a lot of opportunities lately to prove that they are truly a civil rights organization and not just a liberal organization. I'll take the gloves off. I think the ACLU is actually very hypocritical. I think that they occasionally will do the Skokie kind of thing where they prove their bona fides, but in many instances they simply side with the liberal side of the argument, not with, necessarily, the civil liberties side.

Penny: What do you think about federally recognized holidays? Doesn't that support one religious view or, at least, one religious celebration as opposed to others? Also, in a pluralistic society, how much deference do we have to show to other religions?

Charen: I read recently that there are something like 600 languages spoken in the state of California because of the enormous number of immigrants from around the world. I don't know if they have 600 holidays to celebrate, but they probably have a lot. It's like a presidential debate. How do you determine who gets to participate? Is it just the two major parties? Is it major parties and the occasional billionaire? How do you make those rules? It is never an easy matter. But I would note that we have one of the highest levels of worker productivity in the world, and we don't have too many national holidays. I think they take a national holiday about once a week in Italy. National Daisy Day, and everybody goes home.

D'Arcy O'Neill Secord: Why haven't we even considered the Native Americans as the people who got here first?

Charen: I haven't discussed Native Americans because, although they were here first, they did not found the country. The United States would not be the United States if the Europeans had not come here with their ideas about how to form a society. The societies that the American Indians founded were quite different. In the case of the Native Americans, it was tragic to be on the losing side of that kind of conflict. It always is. You have one people that is fairly primitive, and their technology is fairly limited. Another people comes in who are advanced, and the weaker one is almost wiped out. That has been the history of mankind going back to our origins, and it is very sad.

But I think that in the more enlightened present, we have attempted to make room for Native Americans and to respect their traditions. I would even suggest that they have been ill-served by attempts that have gone too far to coddle them and to make up for past wrongs. You can never make it up to living people that you murdered their ancestors. There is no way you can compensate people for that. So, by simply paying our federal pensions, federal largesse and so on, all you do is infantilize a population and make them dependent. You are not really doing them any favors. Our policies toward Native Americans have not been helpful at all.

Ray Watson: You made a comment about how the majority has an obligation to the minority and, of course, the minority has an obligation to the majority. And you stated that the minority should not ask the majority to stop being what they are. I agree with that. Where do you see the line drawn between the minority not asking the majority to stop being what they are and situations where you do need to make a federal case?

Charen: Well, the best example is the Civil Rights Movement in the American South, where the minority was so beaten down and so deprived of their basic rights by the majority that they had no alternative but to ask for federal intervention and to make a federal case of it. Unfortunately, the civil rights paradigm has now become the paradigm for every problem people face. Instead of recognizing other ways to deal with more subtle problems, everybody seems to want to fit themselves into that mold, including homosexuals and women. Everybody says, "I'm a persecuted minority just like blacks were in the South. We need a federal law to take care of me."

Weber: Isn't there also a rising inability, particularly among young African-Americans, to affirm the dominant culture? We're increasingly hearing people -- often young African-Americans who are very bright, very active and sometimes very charismatic professionals -- say, "don't try to force your culture on us." Aren't some cultures more successful than others? We certainly don't want to affirm persecution, and you don't want to force homogenization, but at the same time you want to say that some cultures succeed in extending life expectancies, reducing infant mortality, and producing a middle class. Other cultures don't.

Charen: That is a very, very key point in this whole debate that we're having in the country

about multiculturalism, which is really nothing but a disguised attack on the majority culture and the American culture. A civilization that loses confidence in itself and loses confidence to say, "Yes, we are this way; we are this way for good reasons, and we think we have done a pretty good job of it," will soon cease to exist.

We should look around the world. Look at how women are treated in Iran, Ethiopia and Third World nations where they have genital mutilations. Women are persecuted horribly in those places. In Saudi Arabia, women can't drive a car or be seen in public without their husbands or guardians. For all its flaws, the fact is that Western civilization is the most successful, free, prosperous society that the world has ever known. We are very, very fortunate to be members of it and beneficiaries of it. If we lose our nerve and forget to reaffirm that, we could lose it.

Penny: Many candidates in my party will be making the assertion this year that the Republicans are dominated by a religious movement; that electing Republicans essentially means that we're going to impose someone's religious views on everyone else. How do you respond to that allegation and elements of the Republican platform that have led to those allegations?

Charen: This actually was the campaign theme that Rep. Vic Fazio of California developed in 1994. He said the Religious Right is coming and he attempted to frighten voters before the 1994 election against voting for Republicans on the grounds that if they did, they were in danger of bringing in a new theocracy on the style of Khomeni in Iran. And voters in droves went out and voted Republican in 1994. So it didn't work.

Will it work this time around? I don't know. I think that theme probably doesn't work very successfully. There may be other reasons that Democrats will be successful in November. But I think there is a lot of overstatement there. A big part of the Republicans' core constituency is the Religious Right or religious conservatives. But we are not in danger of any theocracy.

Penny: Can you name an issue other than abortion that undergirds this?

Charen: Bill Clinton is stealing all those issues. He is scurrying over to the right as fast as his little legs will carry him. He is trying to sound very conservative on things like the V-Chip. He wants parents to be able to edit out the violence and the sex from things that kids see on television. He wants school uniforms. He wants curfews. These are the kind of things the Christian Coalition and others have talked about as a way to re-empower parents and restore some kind of standards about the kind of culture that we have created in this country. Those are very popular issues, and it is not just Christian conservatives who care about them.

Weber: It is a little disingenuous on the part of Vic Fazio and others. Certainly, there is a social and economically conservative agenda in the Republican Party that is infused with a moral fervor by religious conservatives. That's not a lot different than the agenda of the left, for instance, when you and I were in high school and college. We had the Civil Rights Movement and the anti-war movement, which were heavily infused with moral fervor by religious leaders at that time.

Charen: And nobody objected.

Weber: Right, nobody objected, and the Civil Rights Movement amounted to imposing a moral view on the country.

Peter Calott: About three weekends ago, my wife and I had the occasion to be at some social functions with Ken Woodward, the respected religious editor of Newsweek magazine. I asked him a question about religion in the press. He said that they don't know how to cope with it. They just have difficulty writing about religion, because they come from a culture that doesn't seem to embody it. This is why we see so little coverage.

For instance, four or five times the amount of money is donated to religious organizations than is spent on sports, but sports gets 10 pages and religion gets one page in a typical Sunday newspaper. The media has difficulty writing about religion. What are your comments?

Charen: I could not agree more. I'll tell you two quick stories to demonstrate the degree to which major media are out of touch of with religious movements in this country.

Every year in Washington there is a right-to-life march where hundreds of thousands of pro-life people come and demonstrate. One year they had a particularly large parade planned because it was a major anniversary of Roe v. Wade. The Washington Post had done a series about a year before when there had been a huge pro-choice rally. They had done six stories leading up to that march. They had done a whole spread on the day of that march. They had an inside page that told marchers where they could find first-aid stands and so on and so forth. And then they had editorials about the march afterwards.

Well, this huge pro-life rally came to Washington and the Post wasn't there. They didn't know the march was going to happen. They missed it. The next day they ran a quick story on the Metro page to try to backpedal as fast as they could and get the story. The managing editor at the time was very angry and asked his staff why they didn't know. The only explanation they could come up with was that nobody on the staff of the Washington Post was pro-life and they didn't know anybody who was. They absolutely had no idea that this event was coming, and it was a major journalistic embarrassment for them all.

A second story. The Post ran a front-page story about people who phone and send mail to Capitol Hill. The reporter wrote that Evangelical Christians are responsible for a lot of this mail and these phone calls because they tend to be poor, uneducated and easy to command. Front page of the paper.

The reporter received a lot of heat from it. He got quite a few letters from Ph.D.s who were Evangelical Christians and millionaires who were Evangelical Christians setting him straight about those stereotypes. It has become the case in today's America, at least among the elite, policy-making types and the media, that the only prejudice now acceptable is against believing Christians. You cannot say anything about any minority group without fear of losing your job, losing your reputation. But you can say anything you want about believing Christians and it passes muster.

Weber: I certainly agree with Mona, but let me uncharacteristically direct a compliment in the direction that I rarely do. I think the [Minneapolis-based] Star Tribune does a serious job of covering religion. On any given day I can find a dozen things I don't like about that newspaper and its editorial policy and the stuff it covers, but I think that they make a more vigorous attempt to cover religion than the Washington press corps and most of the press around the country.

I thought, for example, the coverage the Star Tribune gave to the recently concluded Billy Graham crusade was really first rate. I kept looking at it to find something sneering and contemptuous of conservative Christianity or Protestantism, and I didn't find it. I thought it was a good job. I do think they make an attempt to go beyond simply compartmentalizing coverage of religion, which is what many papers do.

The New York Times runs its religion column on Saturdays, although they don't even call it religion. They call it "beliefs." Most papers compartmentalize religion. It's always on Saturday, which is the least-read newspaper, and it is always confined to one page. I think the Star Tribune makes an attempt to do more. I don't always agree with their analysis by any means, but I do think they have tried to bring the role of religion into the discussion of community and public affairs, and that's fitting in this state.

Penny: I just want to make two quick observations. One has to do with stereotyping and categorizing. The media are lazy in this regard. They want to stereotype and categorize people and groups, pretending that they're saying something when they're really saying nothing. By creating these categories, they're really not giving us any substance.

Journalists also go for star status. They treat religious leaders like political leaders, picking one from each side, with each becoming the voice for everyone in that category. Ralph Reed versus Jesse Jackson. Is that really a full-fledged discussion of religious views on public policy? I don't think so. I think it's laziness on the part of the press that leads to that.

Also, there is something going on in America that isn't being satisfied in the political arena, and maybe it's because so much of what we talk about in the political arena no longer seems relevant to people. When I attended the final night of Billy Graham's crusade with my two youngest children, it was the largest crowd ever at a Metrodome event. It not only filled the stadium to capacity with 70,000 individuals, but there were 25,000 sitting in the parking lot across the street watching on a large screen. I think it says something about how we're lacking public debate on truly relevant and value-based issues that 95,000 people go to the Metrodome for a religious function.

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