PERSPECTIVErnReligious Rights and Wrongsrnby Thomas FlemingrnThe Vice President was in Russia in September, trying tornpersuade Boris Yeltsin to amend legislation giving thernRussian Orthodox Church a privileged position. Al Gore wasrnjust the man to explain religious toleration to the Russians. Inrnthe 1996 campaign, he revealed himself as an affirmative actionrnfundraiser, willing to solicit donations from anyone, regardlessrnof race, creed, national origin, or the laws of the UnitedrnStates.rnThe Russians were unmoved by American protests, arguingrnthat other U.S. allies (e.g., Saudi Arabia and Israel) have establishedrnreligions and pointing out that pluralism is not one ofrntheir religious traditions. Exasperated with Russian obtuseness.rnGore told reporters that he had “tried very hard to explain exactlyrnwhy we Americans feel so strongly about this.”rnHow strongly Americans “feel” about religious toleration isrnnot a question that can be easily answered. The usual argumentsrn—that America was founded by people seeking freedomrnof conscience—is as big a lie as anything included in the NationalrnHistory Standards. Some of us came looking for gold or,rnmore often, for free land; and those who did come for religiousrnreasons were looking for some piece of ground where theyrncould establish their own brand of piety as the exclusive creed.rnIn the beginning, virtually every sect made as much tiouble forrnreligious rivals as it could. The Yankee Puritans were the mostrnbrutally intolerant, but even the Philadelphia Quakers, in theirrnown style of passive-aggression, refused to take steps to protectrnthe Scotch-Irish Presbyterians who settled the Pennsylvaniarnback country. If Indians went on a spree and wiped out a settlement,rnthe Quakers blamed the Calvinists and defended thernIndians as harmless children of nature. Maryland Catholicsrndid tolerate Protestants, but that was a condition of their settiement.rnThe most significant movement toward pluralism was madernin South Carolina, where an Anglican ruling class had to reckonrnwith a numerous and well-organized Calvinist opposition.rnThe balance in the colony then changed with the arrival ofrnHuguenots from France. Although they were expected to joinrnforces with their Calvinist brethren from Britain, thernHuguenots had eaten their fill of religious stiife and were contentrnwith the right to use a French version of the Book of CommonrnPrayer.rnReligious toleration was a kind of inevitable necessity imposedrnby life on the frontier. The constant threat of attacks byrnFrench and Spanish Catholics (to say nothing of Indian devilworshipers)rninspired a sense of camaraderie among Protestantsrnwhich, in the Southern states, spilled over to include Catholicsrnas well. The Hibernian Society established in Charleston at thernend of the 18th centiir)’ was a collaborative veiiture of Catholicsrnand Orangemen, and Grady McWhiney has pointed out thatrnmany early Irish settlers were not Protestants but Catholicsrnwho, coming to a wilderness witliout priests, decided to makerndo with the other Irish religion.rnIf the spirit of toleration only took root in America by accident,rnit remains tine that religious pluralism (at least since thernedict of Milan) is a phenomenon peculiar to Western Europern(particularly Great Britain) and North America. It was not alwaysrnso, of course. The English and Scots were excellent persecutors,rnand Henry VIII, lovable butcher that he was, burnedrnLutheran and Catholic with equal zest—the one for his heresy,rnthe other for his tieason. The English Civil War was the worstrnlO/CHRONlCLESrnrnrn