Tolerance, to tolerate, is good, right? Athletes and soldiers learn to tolerate greater levels of pain and suffering in order to accomplish their goals. Couples who stay together have learned to tolerate each other’s foibles and irritating habits and still find reasons to love. Successful inventors and business owners have learned to tolerate many failures before finding the right solution or formula. When I stayed in Japan for a month, I learned to tolerate hotter water so I could enjoy the O-furo, the traditional Japanese bath. In all these cases, individuals decided their goals were more important than their comfort, and achieving those goals was worth the sacrifice of comfort. Tolerance itself was never the goal. If you had no desire to compete in an Olympics mile race, but were forced to train as if you were, what would you call that? If I had no desire to spend time in a scalding hot bath, but were forced to endure it anyway, I would call it torture.
Let’s unpack how this concept–tolerance–is used today in the social context. When someone is told to tolerate something that they perceive, or believe, is harmful to either themselves or their families, and they derive no benefits from such tolerance, what are the consequences? If my daughter was in kindergarten, and story time featured a man in a scary witch drag costume reading stories (which could have been about how different kids broke free of their parents’ narrow mindedness by choosing their own sex and were miraculously transformed to a different sex–content was never mentioned), I would consider that harmful. Yet this has happened in a library during a story time for kindergarten-age kids, and protesting parents were lectured on tolerance. When is “tolerance” an excuse for silencing disagreement? These days, very often.
Take Tim Gill, tech millionaire and extremely liberal LGBT activist, spoke with Rolling Stone in a June interview, and called for the punishment of Christians who refuse to take part in same-sex weddings. In the interview, the 63-year-old Colorado resident — who’s funneled over $400 million into pro-LGBT social reform causes over the last 20 years — claimed that it’s time to “punish the wicked,” in his opinion. Gill set his sights on President Donald Trump’s election, and his perception of paradigm shift within the country as a result. An excerpt from Rolling Stone read: “The election of Donald Trump, who claims to support gay rights but stocked his administration with anti-LGBTQ extremists, has only emboldened those looking to erase the gains of the past decade. Gill refuses to go on the defense. ‘We’re going into the hardest states in the country,’ he says. ‘We’re going to punish the wicked.’”
A very representative example of coercion under the guise of “tolerance” is that of Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cake Shop in Colorado, who looks like a test case for Gill’s anti-Christian crusade, via the Colorado Civil Rights Commission. In 2012, he was asked to design and bake a cake celebrating the wedding of Charlie Craig and Dave Mullins, who were long term customers of his shop. However, the message they wanted on the wedding cake was a direct challenge to Jack’s religious beliefs. Even after explaining to the commission that it wasn’t the people he objected to, it was the message such a cake would send about marriage, an administrative law judge ruled against Jack in December 2013, saying that designing and creating cakes for same-sex weddings is not speech protected by the First Amendment. The commission ordered Jack and his staff to either violate Jack’s faith by designing custom wedding cakes that celebrate same-sex marriages or stop designing all wedding cakes, which was approximately 40% of Jack’s business. In addition, Jack was ordered to “reeducate” his staff by teaching them that he was wrong to operate his business consistently with his faith. The state also required Jack to file quarterly “compliance” reports telling the government every time that he declines a custom cake request and explaining the reasons why. Doesn’t this sound more like a communist country than the United States?
His attorneys petitioned the United States Supreme Court to take up Jack’s case. After the Supreme Court granted review, it ruled 7 to 2 in favor of Jack on June 4, 2018. The ruling reversed the state’s decision to punish Jack for living and working consistently with his religious beliefs about marriage. On June 26, 2017, the same day that the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to take up Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, Denver attorney Autumn Scandina asked cake artist Jack Phillips to create a cake designed to celebrate a gender transition from male to female. Of course, the timing and this request is entirely coincidental, right? Phillips declined the request because the custom cake would have expressed messages about sex and gender identity that conflict with his religious beliefs. Less than a month after the Supreme Court ruled for Phillips in his first case, the state surprised him by finding probable cause to believe that Colorado law requires him to create the requested gender-transition cake. Over his years as a cake artist, Phillips has declined to create cakes with diverse messages that violate his faith, including messages that demean LGBT people, express racism, celebrate Halloween, promote marijuana use, and celebrate or support Satan.
Tolerance works both ways, if tolerance is really the issue. Jack Phillips has as much right to decline a request to do something that violates his beliefs as the requesters have to make the request. One of the CCRC commissioners refers to Jack publicly as “the cake hater”. Am I expected to believe there’s no relationship between this state’s government hostility to Mr. Phillips’ Christianity and Gill’s crusade (and his millions) to “punish the wicked.” Tolerance, the word, not the practice, has become an idol, and even intelligent people bow down and worship this idol, often ignoring the evident coercion that has become almost standard practice.
Real tolerance is a decision by an individual to forebear condemnation of people or practices that they disagree with for their own reasons. Enforced tolerance is not tolerance at all, it’s coercion. Is it paradoxical that those who are the most vociferous in calling for separation of church and state are the quickest to demand that the machinery of the state be used to coerce an appearance of tolerance? No, it isn’t paradoxical at all…..it’s evidence of the degree of hypocrisy of those who worship at the altar of tolerance, while really wanting approbation!