Joining Sarah Palin (perhaps “affirmiating” her position?), Newt Gingrich issued a statement last night opposing the proposed building of a mosque at the World Trade Center site. Gingrich took a break from his busy no-really-I’m-running-for-president-this-time-and-while-I-have-your-attention-have-you-bought-my-new-book-slash-movie? campaign to argue that the best way for Americans to be models of religious tolerance is to stop being tolerant. After all, writes Gingrich, “[M]ore than 100 mosques already exist in New York City. Meanwhile, there are no churches or synagogues in all of Saudi Arabia. In fact no Christian or Jew can even enter Mecca.”
That is true. And the religious diversity and tolerance in the U.S. is something that Americans are rightly proud of, not something they usually pout about. Interestingly, ordinary Americans continue to display extremely high levels of religious tolerances, especially compared to their European cousins (and both Palin and Gingrich). A recently released survey from the Pew Global Attitudes Project looked at support for measures that ban Muslim women from wearing full veils over their faces in public places. In France, where the government is close to passing such a measure, 82% approve of a ban. Support is also high in Germany and Britain, with 71% and 62%, respectively, favoring measures to make veil-wearing illegal.
But in the U.S.? Only 28% of Americans would support a measure banning Muslim women from wearing veils.
Now, supporting the rights of Muslim women to veil their faces is not the same thing as supporting the building of a mosque at the World Trade Center site. But the finding does reflect what other surveys have consistently reported–that Americans are pretty tolerant when it comes to religious differences and they prefer to focus on interfaith cooperation rather than strife between religious traditions. That suggests Gingrich is in the minority when he thinks we should follow the lead of Saudi Arabia rather than continuing to be a model of religious tolerance and encouraging others to join us.