The concept of heresy arose early in the Christian Church, as alternative approaches to dogma and worship were persecuted by the dominant orthodoxy. Ironically ths first apeared as the Church itself emerged from persecution. Intolerance of “heresy” continued through the Middle Ages, with Protestantism perhaps as the ultimate heresy.
Then, of course, established Protestant rulers sought to crush divergent faiths.
Today the concept of persecuting heresy seems very old-fashioned, with Freedom of Religion enshrined in the American Bill of Rights and by international conventions. It seems restricted to al-Qaeda/Taliban extremists intent on persecuting women and followers of other strands of Islam. The official stance is that in much of the world you may follow your own faith as long as you respect the laws and the faiths of others. Forcing your beliefs on others is officially wrong.
Yet, the American primary election season has revealed that the persecution of heresy lives on among Evangelicals and Tea Party supporters. Moving beyond their decades-old opposition to abortion, they now label women who seek birth control as “sluts”. All-male congressional panels seek to restrict women’s health rights. Instead of following their own faiths, they seek to defy international law and force their beliefs on those who believe otherwise.
Rick Santorum’s recent denounciation of a brilliant speech by John F Kennedy supporting the division between Church and State graphically illustrates how the Evangelicals have turned their backs on the modern world. Ironically they praise the Founding Fathers, yet Washington, Jefferson and the others were invariably Deists who did not force religion on citizens.