LETTER- Bearing the burden of freedom

I was struck by two pieces in the September 28 issue. One was the letter by Michael Ellston, who objected to having his bigotry toward homosexuals labeled "homophobia," and the other was Erika Raskin's essay ["Jiffy feud: When the war hits home"] relating the strident objections of a man to her opposition to the Iraqi war.

What struck me was that neither Ellston nor Raskin's man fully comprehend both the great promise and the real burdens of two concepts frequently given as rationales for the positions they maintain: Christianity and Freedom.

Christian principle requires us to love our fellow humans as we love ourselves. Nowhere in that commandment is the charge to seek confirmation of personal prejudice in the word of God. Ellston may not like homosexuals, but Christ requires him to extend to them the same privileges he assumes for himself. Period. And that's a real burden, to try to overcome one's prejudices, but the payoff is peace and justice, two eminently moral outcomes.

A similar case is the enraged man who shouted to Raskin that the only acceptable expression of American freedom corresponds to his own. The principle of freedom of conscience, fundamental to the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, directly contradicts him. The freedom to agree is no freedom at all, as any resident of a totalitarian state would say.

What's far more difficult, and more truly American, is to welcome– not simply to tolerate, or worse, revile– the freedom to disagree. And that Freedom is the only one worth fighting for.

Certainly Ellston and Raskin's man are free to maintain their positions, however wrongheaded. But what they are not free to do is compel their fellow citizens– through intimidation or through law– to live by their own bigoted standards. That would be both un-Christian and un-American.

Hal Sharp