The Williamsburg Charter on Civil DiscourseThe Williamsburg Charter, presented to the nation on June 25, 1988, the 200th anniversary of Virginia's call for the Bill of Rights.
Recent controversies over religion and public life have too often become a form of warfare in which individuals, motives, and reputations have been impugned. The intensity of the debate is commensurate with the importance of the issues debated, but to those engaged in this warfare we present two arguments for reappraisal and restraint. The lesser argument is one of expediency and is based on the ironic fact that each side has become the best argument for the other. One side’s excesses have become the other side’s arguments; one side’s extremists the other side’s recruiters. The danger is that, as the ideological warfare becomes self-perpetuating, more serious issues and broader national interests will be forgotten and the bitterness deepened. The more important argument is one of principle and is based on the fact that the several sides have pursued their objectives in ways which contradict their own best ideals. Too often, for example, religious believers have been uncharitable, liberals have been illiberal, conservatives have been insensitive to tradition, champions of tolerance have been intolerant, defenders of free speech have been censorious, and citizens of a republic based on democratic accommodation have succumbed to a habit of relentless confrontation.