Faith CoLab: Tapestry of Faith: Faith Like a River: A Program on Unitarian Universalist History for Adults

Activity 2: What Is Tolerance?

Activity time: 25 minutes

Materials for Activity

  • Newsprint, markers, and tape
  • Leader Resource 1, Religious Tolerance
  • Optional: Computer and digital projector

Preparation for Activity

  • Print out Leader Resource 1, Religious Tolerance and familiarize yourself with the material.
  • Write these quotations on sheets of newsprint, and post:
    • "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof... " - U.S. Constitution, Bill of Rights
    • "Tolerance comes most easily when nothing really matters, when a person has no vital and compelling beliefs about anything. Where there are strong and definite beliefs, it becomes notoriously more difficult to tolerate opposing beliefs, particularly in religion." - Phillip Hewett, "Why Unitarian?" in Unitarians in Canada (1978, 2nd edition, 1995)
    • "Although tolerance is no doubt a step forward from intolerance, it does not require new neighbors to know anything about one another. Tolerance can create a climate of restraint, but not one of understanding. Tolerance alone does little to bridge the chasm of stereotype and fear that may, in fact, dominate the mutual image of the other ... William Penn and, later, the framers of the Constitution wanted to move beyond the tolerance of religious difference to the free exercise of religion." - Diana Eck, A New Religious America (New York: Harper Collins, 2001).
  • Optional: Download the quotations and prepare them as three digital slides. Test the computer and projector.

Description of Activity

Read aloud or paraphrase the contents of Leader Resource 1, Religious Tolerance. Invite reflections on the progress of religious tolerance through history. Invite them to focus for the time being on civic religious tolerance, a necessary condition for liberal theological ideas to thrive.

Post (or display, one at a time) the quotations you have prepared. Allow time for people to read each and think about their meaning.

Read aloud these two statements:

1. The principle of religious tolerance, as stated in the U.S. Constitution, is sufficient to support and protect the religious pluralism of our country at this time.

2. While the principle of religious tolerance, as stated in the U.S. Constitution, was sufficient for less pluralistic times in our history, our contemporary culture calls for legal amplification to the basic Bill of Rights protection.

Invite participants to self-select into two groups for a 10-minute discussion about one of the statements. Explain that participants may join a group because they agree or disagree with the statement, or because they are simply curious about it.

Bring the two groups back together to share insights and opinions.