St. Petersburg—A while back, synagogue members and civil rights groups picketed the Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, when the Coral Ridge Ministries held a conference on “Reclaiming America for Christ.” The local newspaper reported, “Thousands of Christian activists from across the nation discussed such topics as, ‘reclaiming the public schools,’ ‘battle for our children’s souls,’ ‘winning the new civil war: recapturing America’s values,’ and ‘why liberals win and what we can do about it.'”

When Jews picket Christians, one thing is clear: this is a free country! Not only is everyone free to say what he wants, but the smallest minorities speak with the loudest voices. That means they are not afraid.

In Germany recently, a court in Bavaria said crucifixes could not hang on classroom walls in public schools. The organized German Jewish community of some 55,000 maintained absolute and total silence. Not a single Jew said what everyone (including ten million Muslims) was thinking: that this proves Germany is not a free country. Public opinion will not tolerate difference when it comes to what really matters. But, as we learned in Fort Lauderdale, America is different.

The protesters in Florida objected on two grounds: first, separation of church and state precludes praying in schools; and second, statements that America “had been founded by” Christians alone” are inaccurate and offensive. A local rabbi argued that the ministries “are promoting . . . principles such as exclusion and a narrow definition of morality.” The newspaper further reported, “A large contingent of the protest came from the gay and lesbian community, as well as ACLU members and Muslim activists.”

So the organized Jewish community, led by rabbis and synagogue members, now assumes leadership of far-left causes —in the name of Judaism. A conference member responded, “Much of what we arc discussing at the conference deals with the values stated in the Old Testament as well as the New Testament. The Christian religion is based on the Jewish religion.”

Presenting themselves not as an ethnic but a religious group, engaged not in political but in religious action, these Jew s made history. So far as I know, Jews, in the name of Judaism, picketing Christians assembled in the name of Christianity’ represents an authentic innovation—a true first in the history of the Jewish people for the last 2,000 years! Never before, nowhere else in the world today, has such a thing happened or could such a thing take place. What a tribute to the freedom that Americans accord to one another and to the profound toleration that Americans have for one another.

But to whose credit? Since over 95 percent of those Americans who profess a religion describe themselves as Christians, the answer is clear. Left, center, and right—Christians affirm the tradition of completely free public debate, even on sensitive religious questions, and Jews (among others), by their actions, acknowledge that fact. No better evidence of American exceptionalism, now and in the past, presents itself. In no other country have Jews conducted themselves in such a wav, and it would be hard for the Christian right to refute its enemies more eloquently than the Coral Ridge Presbyterians did: going about their business with respect for those who, outside the door, chose to protest, saving simply, “The Christian religion is based on the Jewish religion.”

So if it is a Christian country, then Christians have much in which to take pride. That makes all the more puzzling the controversy over the statement, “America is a Christian country.” What should offend anyone in the claim that the vast majority of Americans are Christian, and that the history of this country is the story of how serious Christians conducted themselves in peace and in war? If not Christian, than what?

Well, is America a Christian country today? Yes, but not only Christian. Some people think America is basically a Christian country, because different forms of Christianity have predominated throughout this country’s history and have defined much of its culture and society. The vast majority of Americans who are religious—and that means most of us—are Christian by religion. But to be a true American, one can hold another religion or no religion at all. The first religions of America were those of the Native Americans, and while Protestantism and Roman Catholicism laid the foundations of American society, America had a Jewish community from nearly the beginning, the first synagogues dating back to the mid-17th century.

Today this country has become the meeting place for nearly all the living religions of the world, with the Zoroastrian, Shinto, Muslim, Buddhist, and Hindu religions well represented. Various religious groups from the Caribbean and from Africa and Latin America likewise flourish. Pretty much every religion in the world is practiced by some Americans. When Christians call it “a Christian country,” some certainly mean to exclude non-Christians. But many simply mean that the majority of Americans stand for something, and something of worth. The news from Fort Lauderdale underscores this simple fact.

If you doubt it, find me some Bahai in Iran to picket the mosques, or some Christians in Egypt to do the same, or let’s go to the Western Wall in Jerusalem and worship in the manner of Reform Judaism. To cut closer to home still, try getting a Jewish group to say that America is the best place in the world, and in all of Jewish history, to practice Judaism. I did, in the Washington Post around a decade ago, and I can report from years of experience that the American Jewish community demands for itself what it will not accord to others, that is, the right to speak freely. The organized Jewish community prefers to marginalize and drive out difference of opinion, not to debate it, and that accounts for its chronic sectarianism.

In Islam and in Judaism, religious expression outside of the enforced consensus is dangerous. In Iran and in Egypt, you can lose your life for less. If you’re a Reform Jew at the Wall without a skull cap and reciting a prayer, you might well get your head bashed in. When Orthodox women said their prayers at the Wall a few years back, they were pelted with rotten tomatoes and bridge chairs. And in the liberal American Jewish community, to contradict either the radical left or the ethnic dogma is to get yourself marginalized.

But Christianity, for its part, gave up on the Inquisition in the 18th century, and neither does it burn witches anymore. So much for the “threat” from the Christian right.