Meryl Chertoff, Director of the Justice and Society Program at The Aspen Institute will discuss the findings of a new report “Principled Pluralism: Report of the Inclusive America Project”.

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“Principled Pluralism: Report of the Inclusive America Project” with Meryl Chertoff

The growing polarisation between religious communities and the expansion of vocal atheism is a growing concern for American society. Meryl Chertoff discusses tools which can be used for cohesion between groups in society for both believers and nonbelievers. She argues that mutual understanding between these groups in society is key to ensuring stable national security and in international peacebuilding.

The government, together with religiously affiliated organizations, educational institutions, youth services and the media can work together and improve the quality of conversation about religion in the public and private sector. An improved conversation can improve cohesion, foster acceptance and build a strong America. She argues that we can create a shared sense of what it is to be American using common values via diverse religious backgrounds. A relationship between the government and religious organizations tackling sectarianism in the public and private sector will also aid immigration reform through the concentration on topics of shared ethical values. Together these groups could provide public sector training on religious sensitivity and support grants for community initiatives. It is imperative, she argues, that the government play a strictly supportive role, staying out of how people exercise their religion.

Religion has fueled sectarian conflict and terrorism throughout history. In order for a pluralistic society to prosper, Chertoff argues that respect for religious identity, positive inter-religious relations, increased education, and understanding and dialogue, are all required elements. Fostering positive relations between religious groups of different faiths and the formation of partnerships helps to promote the common good and combined condemnation of terrorism. Using shared goals, the public can work together with similar ethical aims. Some of the examples she gives are helping the poor, building communities and neighborhoods, listening to one another and working towards a common good. These are values present in all religions and which benefit society at large.

Education is fundamental to the success of this initiative. Nationally there is a void in the understanding of the challenges faced by new arrivals in the United States due to cultural and language barriers. One solution is to engage in dialogue and include immigrant youth into broader community youth programs. These strategies help the public quickly attenuate isolation and sectarianism. Chertoff argues that individual families should also work to promote pluralism; young people should be encouraged to engage with and discover new cultures while having the choice to retain their own beliefs. “Safe places,” where people from diverse backgrounds can come together and talk about their faith and beliefs should be promoted, especially in formal education settings from a young age. Chertoff argues that mediation in these initiatives will reassure families that their children will not lose their own faith, but rather gain a basic education that highlights shared values, shared stories and holidays. This type of education serves to break down the religious barrier and promote shared ethical values. Universities have a responsibility to teach about different religious faiths too, Chertoff explains. Receiving a broad education allows individuals to better understand the boundaries of their own faith, and reflect on and strengthen their beliefs and reasoning behind them. In the past, the public school helped break down individual affiliation. Now that individualism is so prized in our culture, this is frequently seen as a threat, and there is a need to satisfy the desire to remain a part of one’s minority community and also a part of the larger community. Finally, the media has a responsibility to ensure the fair representation of cultures. Frequent exposure and awareness of different cultures promote both broader community dialogue and understanding. The Muslim community, in particular, has been badly represented. Social media is greatly advancing the humanization between faiths and greatly promotes dialogue between cultures fostering mutual understanding.

Meryl Chertoff, Director of the Justice and Society Program at The Aspen Institute will report the findings of a new report “Principled Pluralism: Report of the Inclusive America Project,” the product of  a distinguished panel co-chaired by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Harvard Kennedy School Professor David Gergen, the Report describes how America’s religious diversity is a  source of civic engagement, and how we can bridge religious differences to build a stronger social fabric.  Around the globe, a religious difference has often been the source of conflict. The US has largely escaped this fate.  Does our luck still hold?  The report provides good news and a roadmap for the way forward.

Meryl Justin Chertoff is Director of The Aspen Institute’s Justice and Society Program and adjunct professor of law at Georgetown University Law Center. She is a member of the Board of iCivics, Inc. and the Sandra Day O’Connor Initiative on Judicial Selection at the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System.  She has degrees from Harvard College and Harvard Law School and has been an attorney, legal writing instructor, PTA and community volunteer, lobbyist, a state official and federal official.

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