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WATCH: Why We Should Want More Than Mere Tolerance

By Caroline Roberts posted on:
August 28, 2020

Calls for tolerance can be heard right and left these days. 

Hollywood preaches about it, college professors demand it, and even strangers on social media scold us if we’re not being “tolerant” enough. 

In 2017, CATO Institute found that 58 percent of Americans hold opinions they’re afraid to share, a problem that not only persists but has grown worse. This year, CATO found that 62 percent of Americans across the political spectrum are hesitant to express their views for fear of public ostracization. 

If someone’s viewpoints are labeled “intolerant,” the consequences are personal and long lasting. 

Take Steve and Bridget Tennes for example. For the past ten years, veterans Steve and Bridget have provided the community of Charlotte, Michigan with fresh produce from their family-owned farm, County Mill Farms. They’ve also sold their produce at a farmer’s market in East Lansing where they provided such high-quality customer service that the city kept inviting them back. 

But in 2016, the City of East Lansing barred the Tennes family from participating in the farmer’s market—because they shared their beliefs about marriage in a Facebook post.

We talk a lot about tolerance in America nowadays, but what the Tennes family experienced certainly doesn’t seem very tolerant.  

So what does tolerance really mean? What is the history of toleration in America? Watch the latest Freedom Matters video below to find out! 


While toleration in 17th century England allowed for narrow and pre-prescribed variances in the practice of religion, the government largely restricted citizens’ religious dissent. In America, however, the restrictions were placed around government. As religious liberty emerged, the question was no longer about what amount of disagreement the government would allow from its citizens. Instead, the government was tasked with protecting the freedom of its citizens to live and act consistently with their beliefs. 

The distinction makes all the difference in the world. As Americans we can unite under the shared principle that we all have the right to live according to our beliefs—including our political, philosophical, and religious beliefs. 

Viewpoint diversity is a hallmark of American democracy. If we don’t celebrate that diversity, we’ll grow even less tolerant of each other. 

True tolerance is a two-way street. In practice, it looks like the Golden Rule. We should do better than merely tolerate each other—we should treat each other as we would like to be treated. 


Visit the Freedom Matters landing page to watch stories of ADF clients and learn about the freedoms that are at stake in their cases. 


Caroline Roberts, Strategic Communications Writer

Caroline Roberts

Strategic Communications Writer

Caroline Roberts serves as a Strategic Communications Writer at Alliance Defending Freedom.

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