Tolerance is good. Intolerance is bad. Right?

Not always, in either case. Consider. One of the primary definitions of tolerance is “the capacity to endure hardship and suffering.”

How long should a person put up with a toothache before he sees the dentist? How long should parents indulge a spoiled child in his tantrums? How long should a woman endure those strange pains in her stomach before she consults the right doctor?

Is tolerance the answer for a spendthrift “shop-a-holic” wife? For a teenager obviously building a drug habit? For a husband and father addicted to gambling? What about that dad in the news recently who was notified by Verizon that his son had incurred over $20,000 in iPhone charges, and had to take a second mortgage on their home?

Americans are, and have always been, a tolerant people. We’re all aware that we’re an ethnic mix, that most all our forbears emigrated to these shores from other countries, and that this is truly “the land of the free.” Our Declaration of Independence underscores the intended, rightful equality of all our citizens, and the First Amendment to our Constitution guarantees that Congress shall make no laws restricting the free exercise of our religious beliefs, or of the press, or our freedom of speech.

Though prejudices have still plagued our society, time and good will and earnest efforts have gradually dissolved much of the earlier intolerance toward others who believe, or act, or even look different than ourselves.

So tolerance – accepting others for who they are, in spite of differences – has been a steady and worthy goal. Intolerance – rejecting and defaming, even persecuting others because of differences – has always seemed unworthy, even contemptible.

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So it’s very troubling to see that, in some very real ways, our country is paying some painful prices for our very tolerance. And in some cases, “tolerance” may stem from apathy or ignorance, or just be an outward sign of non-involvement.

Look at television today. Because of the steady, unrelenting pressure from writers, producers, network executives and ad agencies that are competing for the mighty dollars TV can produce, inviolate standards of decency we all lived by have all but vanished. Where even in movies, not long ago, a man and woman were not to be seen in the same bed, the soap operas on daytime TV apparently have been given the green light to portray just about any sexual or aberrant activity humans are capable of. The FCC has all but thrown up its hands and said “we give up; you people do whatever you want. Nobody seems to care.”

When organizations like the Parents Television Council, Focus on the Family and others mount protests about the effect of exposure to frequent sex and violence on children and families, they’re accused of prudish “intolerance,” of out of date morality, of “trying to force their views on others.” And most tellingly, “of restricting free speech.” With these critics, including the ever-active ACLU, if you agree with their mindset you’re tolerant; if you don’t, you’re intolerant.

Look at our schools. Not so long ago, America’s schools and education system were the best in the world. Violence was unheard of, rebellious activity impermissible, and it was not uncommon for a school day to begin with a voluntary prayer and a patriotic song. The atmosphere was calm, positive and conducive to learning.

Then an atheist named Madalyn Murray O’Hare somehow convinced the Supreme Court that a harmless voluntary prayer – in which a nonreligious kid didn’t have to participate – was somehow a violation of her rights, and the rights of a miniscule minority that might agree with her. So prayer vanished from the school day – and has been replaced, in increasing incidence, with drugs, sex, violence and a growing intolerance of any mention of God, creation, the Bible or individual expressions of Judeo-Christian faith.

Most Americans, when asked, not only see nothing wrong with prayer and Bible verses in school, they would prefer the kids have the benefit of moral restraint and guidance those things provide. But they’re accused of intolerance. And when they complain about the NEA and GLSEN (the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network) mandating instruction in sexual practices and preferences, even “how to” courses, they’re shouted down as “bigots” and “homophobes.”

Way too many of us have been cowed into silence, not wanting to seem “out of touch” or intolerant, and so the relentless deterioration of time-honored standards continues. And the quality of education, and the love of the school experience, diminishes apace.

It’s long past time for Americans to begin to become a lot more intolerant … intolerant of our majority-approved, constitutionally guaranteed rights as citizens being ripped from us by minority activists and leftist judges. We’ve been tolerant of minority alternative views and agendas long enough – it’s time we demand they be tolerant of ours.

I’m encouraged, even thrilled, to witness the “tea parties,” the spontaneous rising up of citizens across the country, in politicians’ offices and forums and town hall meetings. I’m glad to hear wives and laborers and small-business owners yelling at their supposed representatives, demanding they do the bidding of the people who elected them.

It’s good, it’s right, it’s exquisitely patriotic, for huge throngs to demonstrate with placards and demands in front of the White House and the halls of Congress, saying, “We don’t want this massive, government takeover of our health care! We haven’t given you permission to make us a debtor nation and mortgage our grandchildren’s future! Who gave you permission to print trillions of pieces of paper, backed by nothing, and destroy our credit in the world? Quit cramming stuff down our throats we don’t want! Our tolerance is at an end! Shape up, or we’ll ship you out!”

You know, the God who is referenced in our Declaration can be intolerant, too. Thomas Jefferson, who wrote that document, also wrote this – which, despite the fury of the ACLU, remains engraved on his monument:

“God who gave us life gave us liberty. And 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 of the gift of God? That they are not to be violated But with His wrath? Indeed, I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that His justice cannot sleep forever.”

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