The virtue of tolerance

SaraBeth Caplin

I have a friend who is involved in an anti-abortion ministry. Basically, she gives the women who enter the clinic some pamphlets that offer free counseling, sonograms and any other service they might need. She is not legally allowed to cross a boundary line between public property and the premises of the clinic. She greets the women with a smile and does not harass them for the choice they are about to make. No one in her group carries picket signs displaying graphic images of post-abortion fetuses. They are only there to show compassion when it is needed most.

A few days ago, my friend received a death threat. Ironically, she was criticized and threatened for doing exactly what the perpetrator was so in favor of: offering women a choice. Furthermore, among other unprintable insults, the anonymous perpetrator accused her of being “intolerant.”

I used to think that tolerance was about allowing people to make their own life choices and respecting their right to do so, even if you disagree with them. My friend and I do not believe that abortion should be legal; however, we cannot make choices for other people. My friend was within her rights to offer help to the women, many of them undoubtedly terrified and emotionally scarred. Yet, an extremist who disagreed strongly with her position simultaneously condemned her right to express what she believes in. For someone so adamantly for a women’s right to choose, he or she did not respect my friend’s choice.

If being “tolerant” means that you are not allowed to stand up for what you believe is right, in such a way that does not infringe on the rights of others, then I guess that makes me intolerant as well. I will never understand how some people who preach tolerance as a sacred virtue are so quick to show intolerance to others for simply disagreeing with them. Whether the subject is abortion, gay marriage, religion or any other hot-button issue, tolerance seems to be something very often demanded but seldom received.

What ever happened to the expression that perfectly summarizes the right we have as Americans? “I may not like what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Isn’t that what true tolerance is all about?

SarahBeth Caplin is a senior English major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected].