Tolerating me (by Billy Coffey)

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The letter was from the American Civil Liberties Union, and the first thing I did was check the address to see if the nice lady who delivers our mail accidentally gave me someone else’s envelope. A letter from the ACLU? To me? Didn’t seem likely. I don’t consider myself to be their type, seeing as how I’m one of those backward country folks who clings to his guns and religion.

As it turned out, the letter was really a survey—ACLU PERSONAL FREEDOM SURVEY, it said—that warned “(my) decision to speak up is more important than ever, as the ACLU takes on a reenergized extremist movement determined to create an America where everyone is forced to live by that group’s narrowly-defined beliefs and values.”

Sounded scary enough, so I did my duty as a concerned citizen. I started filling out my survey. After all, they promised they were “vigorously working to protect” the things I believe in. It was the least I could do.

But then I came to the first question:

I believe that the separation of church and state is crucial to the health of our democracy and that government should stay out of Americans’ personal religious beliefs and practices.

Four choices were given—Do Not Believe, Somewhat Believe, Believe, Strongly Believe. Uh-oh. Really? I marked Do Not Believe. Even though I want my government out of my faith, I also want to know what the people in my government believe. Even if they believe in nothing. Because in the end, what we believe defines what we are.

Question 2: I believe that attempts to limit the rights of people to marry and/or adopt children based upon their sexual orientation not only hurts families but violates the most fundamental precepts of American freedom and must be resisted.

It was about this point when I realized these questions were written in such a way that if I disagreed, I would be made out to be an evil man. I marked Do Not Believe anyway. Because I have a right to think that, correct? That’s the whole point of the ACLU. Correct?

The other questions weren’t any easier—one about how “reproductive choices must be defended” and another about how wrong it is “for extremist advocates of creationism and intelligent design to impose their religious beliefs by interfering with the teaching of evolution in public school science classes.” One about how wrong it is “to use taxpayer dollars to fund abstinence-only education programs that promote a particular religious doctrine.”

I finished them all (Do Not Believe turned out to be my favorite answer) and decided that I would likely never hear from them again since I was pretty much the sort of person they seemed intent on scuffling with. Evidently, I was part of the “reactionary forces that want to create an America where everyone is forced to live by their narrowly-defined beliefs and values.”

(Not true, by the way.)

But if you ask me a question, the odds are pretty good I’m going to give you what I think is the best answer. If we disagree on that, well that’s just fine. I’ll have no problem tolerating you. But you’d damn well better tolerate me, too.

That means not calling me Islamophobic because I don’t think a mosque should be within a two blocks of where the Twin Towers once stood, and not calling me a racist because I disagree with someone who happens to be black.

It means not calling me narrow-minded because I stick to what I believe.

And not calling me reactionary because I’ll stand up for them.

To read more from Billy Coffey, visit him at his blog What I Learned Today and follow him on twitter at @BillyCoffey

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