I wonder, will my children one day suffer for their opinions?  It seems laughable.  I mean, this is America, right?  But I wonder if their convictions will marginalize them; exclude them from polite company, employment or even from the political process as a whole.  Sadly, this isn’t some Orwellian fantasy; this is reality.

As an example, I submit the fact that physicians, medical students, nurses and pharmacists have faced professional censure, sometimes even loss of employment, for refusing to provide abortions or abortion-inducing medications.  The current administration in Washington has removed the conscience protections put in place by the Bush administration.  And even though President Obama has signaled that he won’t change conscience rights for medical providers, the winds of change are blowing, and the future is always uncertain.  And it’s especially uncertain for those opposed to abortion, because their opinions are considered by many to be irrelevant or even hateful.

Of course, that’s not all.  I have lectured on free speech in medicine, and have asked academic physicians this question:  ‘Do you know anyone who has lost their job as a result of speaking an unpopular opinion?’  ‘Absolutely,’ they tell me.  As if I had asked, ‘do you know anyone who had lunch today?’  And please understand, those physicians weren’t fired because they believed that the best treatment for heart disease was a big bowl of leaches and a turpentine-poultice.  It was because they had opinions on things like whether or not ‘the customer is always right,’ how to handle drug addicts, or other issues that fell somewhere between medicine, politics and morality.

But the problem is deeper than free speech or conscience protections.  The problem is that America is not a land of diversity.  Granted, we’re fairly diverse when it comes to race, national origin, family dynamics, religious affiliation, even sexual orientation.  But where we fall down is in diversity of thought and opinion.  It exists, of course, but it is widely despised.

Oh, the government talks about it in untold thousands of documents, and encourages it in countless programs designed to increase ‘diversity.’  Lawyers drag it out in lawsuits.  And our students hear it in lectures and read it in textbooks.  Parades celebrate diversity and universities pride themselves on it.  But in actuality, the power-players, the elites, and sadly, even the younger generations of students find diversity problematic.  More to the point, they hate it.  What they love is conformity.

How do I know?  I read blogs and Websites and look at the comments; I read letters to the editor and watch the news.  I write columns and read the responses in the online forums.  America is comically intolerant of the diversity it proclaims from the roof-tops.

College students shout down visiting lecturers whose viewpoints differ from their own.  Senators, even presidents, make disparaging remarks about the lesser life-forms who trouble their existence with dissent.  And reporters from major networks berate and attack citizens who hold opinions that don’t resonate with the media’s sense of propriety.

We can believe anything we want in America as long as it’s the right thing.  But once we cross over into the ‘no-man’s land’ of unpopular opinion, all bets are off.  At that point, dissenters are labeled ignorant, uneducated, intolerant, right-wing, extremist, fundamentalist, or the ultimate modern pejorative ‘anti-scientific.’

All that is necessary in order to be hated, attacked, called ‘crazy’ and deemed irrelevant, is to express a deep faith in God, to state a well-reasoned belief in the validity of a holy scripture, to hold the shocking idea that truth actually exists, to ask pointed questions about the science behind global warming, to question the wisdom of same-sex marriage, or to hint that teens might be better off without sex.   I could go on:  question the authority of the UN, question the tax code, question the rationale of gun-control, question…question anything ‘mainstream’ and watch the hatred fall like rain.

A tacit acceptance of evolution is also part of the required catechism of modernity.  Oddly, many believers in evolution, intolerant of the theory’s detractors, seem to forget that evolutionary theory requires diversity, in response to changing environmental pressures, so that new, stronger, species can emerge and succeed.

Is it then possible that diverse opinions and thoughts, as necessary as DNA, might also help humankind survive?  Is it possible that we are not meant to converge on every point, but rather for our ideas to diverge for the good of mankind?  The cult of conformity may prevent us from ever knowing.

What a striking irony in country founded on true tolerance and true diversity.

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