Gore Urges Religious Tolerance, Activism

Article excerpt

In a recent speech before Virginia's House of Delegates Vice-President Al Gore asked his listeners to honor the nation's history of religious tolerance. At the same time he stressed that believers; whatever their tradition, should not be afraid to bring their religiously shaped views to important public debates. ACcording to Gore, in the nation's early days "the greatest need was to protect the unbelievers from religious coercion; today we need also to assure that believers in a variety of religious traditions. are free to engage in and help shape public dialogue without feeling they ought to hide their religious beliefs."

Gore's remarks were made January 14 during a ceremony that commemorated Virginia's enactment of its Statute for Religious Freedom on January 16, 1786. Drafted by Thomas Jefferson, the statute was an important forerunner of the U. S. Constitution's First Amendment religion clause. In his speech Gore recounted key moments in U.S. church-state relations, remarking that in part due to Jefferson's wisdom "no religious war has ever scorched our land .... Instead, from the beginning of our history, refugees from religious persecution have come here for safety." The vicepresident also pointed out, however, that the U. S.'s record of honoring religious freedom is not without blemish, noting, for example, the mob-action murder of MOrmon leader Joseph Smith and a "stain on our history" caused by anti-Semitism.

Religious tolerance and its opposite were at the center of Gore's address. Observing that "some people sometimes seem intent on bringing religious strife to our own free land," he averred that even though a "monolithic religious system may use the power of government to compel obedience to its orthodoxy,. …