Again this is another paper I wrote for english but thought some may be interested in after reading some discussions.
"Role of religion in our society? I view religion as a personal matter. I think a person ought to be judged on how he or she lives his life or lives her life. And that's how I've tried to live my life: through example. Faith plays an important part in my life individually. But I don't ascribe a person's opposing my nominations to an issue of faith….The great thing about America is that you should be allowed to worship any way you want. And if you chose not to worship, you're equally as patriotic as somebody who does worship. And if you choose to worship, you're equally American if you're a Christian, a Jew, a Muslim." This quote on America’s religious tolerance ironically came from President George W. Bush in a 2005 press conference. However, is this appealing statement about this Judeo-Christian nation actually true?
America is a country that was formed partly out of the need for religious freedom. Our founding fathers thought this right was so important that it was written into the Constitution as part of the first amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances…” (Mount). Now it is true that our government has not passed any laws establishing a national religion, but overall, the national perception is that any religion outside the Judeo-Christian belief system is wrong. We can see this in the fact that there has never been a president or even a major candidate for president that has been anything besides a Christian. It was a big deal when JFK was elected since he was the first Catholic to become president. It was also a big deal in 2000 when Joe Lieberman was a vice presidential candidate because he would have been the first Jew to be on a presidential ticket. This happened yet again in this year’s republican primary race when Mitt Romney, a Mormon, ran for president. These are commonly known facts, what is not commonly known is the extent of which the American population would refuse to vote for a candidate purely based on their religion, even if he or she is the most qualified person for the job. “Polls from 1937 to 2007 by the Gallup Organization are of particular value because they have asked essentially the same question of American adults for over four decades. One series of questions is typically worded: "If your party nominated a generally well-qualified person for president who happened to be a 'X' would you vote for that person?" "X" is [the variable that stands for] Atheist, Baptist, Black, Catholic, Homosexual, Jewish, Mormon, and Woman. [The] percentage of unprejudiced adults (those answering "yes") at approximately 20 year intervals have been:”
Factor 1937 1959 1967 1978 1999 2007
- 22% 40% 49% 45
Baptist - 94 - 94 -
Black 37 49 53 77 95 94
60 70 90 91 94 95
- - 26 59 55
46 72 82 82 92 92
- - 75 79 72%
33 57 57 76 92 88
Married 3 times
- - - - 67
72 years of age - - - - 57
We live in a society where more than half of the population would not vote for an atheist no matter how qualified that person is, even if he or she stemmed from the same political party. More people would rather vote for a homosexual than an atheist and more people would vote for a woman or a Hispanic over a Mormon (Robinson).
The Christian mindset of the United States is so prevalent that the current presidential candidates seem to be tripping over each other to prove how Christian they are. Senator John McCain is quoted as saying in an interview with beliefnet.com, “this nation was founded primarily on Christian principles…” (Gilgoff). He also states in the interview in regards to how the public should vote, they should consider “Will this person carry on in the Judeo Christian principled tradition that has made this nation the greatest experiment in the history of mankind?” (Gilgoff). While it maybe true that most of our founding fathers were Christian, they had no intention of creating a Christian nation. They fought for religious freedom and all you need to do is look at the 1st Amendment to see what they believed. His quotes have caused McCain to receive harsh criticism from groups like the American Jewish Committee and the National Jewish Democratic Council, but these criticisms have received little to no press coverage (“McCain”). It appears that even the media has fallen into the religious trap.
Not to be out done, Senator Barack Obama has gone on national television and made several speeches having to do with his faith. He even has a section on his website called Obama on faith which features quotes on faith from his speeches (“Obama”). Quotes like this one; “We should never forget that God granted us the power to reason so that we would do His work here on Earth…” (“Obama”). Like McCain Obama has a faith based problem, but his has nothing to do with his words but with perception. The perception he is fighting is the rumor that he is Muslim. This rumor started online and is continually being spread over and over. The main basis for these rumors are his name and the fact he spent time as a child in Indonesia. This is a real problem especially when 79% of Americans who regularly attend church and 66% who do not regularly attend church have a negative view of this (Islam) religion (Robinson). Compare this with the 11% and 17% negative view of Christianity respectively (Robinson). It seems that many Americans see no room for a non-Christian president which is a trait Obama’s opponents seem to work off of even if the rumors are false.
Another case of religious intolerance would be our very own elected officials. Yes, the very people we elect to speak for us in the government. As Robert F. Drinan states in his book Can God & Caesar Coexist?, many public officials believe that there is a moral decay in America, which I will concede as being true. What is their solution to the problem? They try to pass laws that post the Ten Commandments outside schools along with mandatory Bible readings and prayer reciting in the classroom. These politicians also believe that religious teachings be integrated into normal education (49-50). Some politicians though, have gone farther and actually tried to pass laws limiting other religions. For example, in 1986, Senator Jessie Helms (R, NC) introduced a bill in Congress to remove tax exempt status from existing Wiccan groups and prevent any new groups from being recognized (Robinson). Another example was when Representative Barr and a coalition of about a dozen conservative Christian agencies promoted a boycott of the U.S. army in an effort to terminate the religious freedoms of Neopagans (Robinson). None of these laws have passed fortunately, but is it only a matter of time before they do? Some laws that have passed try to eliminate certain religious group’s rights to worship by not recognizing their faith in the military or prison (Robinson). The most targeted for this discrimination are Pagan religions such as Wicca (Robinson). This means that they do not get a religious leader of their faith, they are not given appropriated last rights, and in the case of the military, they could be dishonorably discharged for practicing certain aspects of their religion. If this happened to a Christian, would the public stand for it? We all know the answer to that one.
What about the teachers who take it upon themselves to bring their version of God into the classroom, even if it is not legal? I know from experience what is like to have a teacher who brings their extremist view of religion into the classroom. My junior year of high school my English teacher thought the classroom was her personal pulpit to preach from. There was not a day that went by that we did not hear about god and religion and the religious roots of our country. Apparently she was able to get away with this because she would use books we were reading to bring up the topic. She would find religious analogies and biblical allusions where none existed. She consistently suggested we read our bibles and then occasionally would add because it was a great piece of literature. This profoundly bothered me even when I agreed with what she said because she had no right to preach to us. We did not all believe what she did or what one another did, which was our right and it was her right to believe as she told us that the constitution should be changed to make this a Christian church run nation. To be insensitive to the Mormons, Jews, Atheists and other religions is immoral especially when they are paying your salary.
Sadly the separation of church and state that our founding fathers fought for is disappearing. Lou Dobbs discuses this in an interview with 60 minutes:
“The separation of church and state in this country is narrowing. And it is the church, not the state that is encroaching. Our Constitution protects religion from the intrusion or coercion of the state. But we have precious little protection against the political adventurism of all manner of churches and religious organizations. … Conservative evangelical leader James Dobson recently said actor and former Sen. Fred Thompson wasn’t Christian enough to be president. He instead chose to commend Newt Gingrich, who has been married three times and recently admitted to an extramarital affair. Five evangelical Christian leaders signed the ‘Land Letter’ to President Bush in 2002 affirming a Christian theological basis to invade Iraq” (Seesholtz).
In Mel Seesholtz’s counter bias article, "Polluting Politics, Perverting Religion, Degutting Education: The Dark Agenda of the Christian Right" illustrates this point:
“A New York Times analysis shows that the number of earmarks for religious organizations, while small compared with the overall number, have increased sharply in recent years. From 1989 to January 2007, Congress approved almost 900 earmarks for religious groups, totaling more than $318 million, with more than half of them granted in the Congressional session that included the 2004 presidential election. By contrast, the same analysis showed fewer than 60 earmarks for faith-based groups in the Congressional session that covered 1997 and 1998. ‘Earmarks are individual federal grants that bypass the normal appropriations and competitive-bidding procedures. They have been blamed for feeding the budget deficit and have figured in several Capitol Hill bribery scandals, prompting recent calls for reform from White House and Congressional leaders.’ ‘They are distinct from the competitive, peer-reviewed grants that have traditionally been used by religious institutions and charities to obtain money for social service. …’”
This is a truly sad state for this great country of ours, which makes me wonder what our founding fathers would say if they were here today.
Up to this point, I have focused mainly on the blind spot the government has toward any non Judeo-Christian religion. But this also extends to the general population. Not only is there a blind spot, there seems to be a large amount of contempt and even hatred toward other religions. We have major conservative Christian leaders like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell blaming events like 9/11, not only on homosexuals but on non-Christian religions, and Atheism, as well. Many conservative Christians have an exclusionist view of other religions, meaning that they don’t make any room for the fact that others may have some truth in their beliefs (Robinson). In most cases they do not even give room that others have a right to their own beliefs (Robinson).
Exclusionists believe their faith is the only valid faith (Robinson). These are the people who will not let others live in peace with belief; they go and harass and bully, and even sometimes kill because they are the only one who is “right.” An example of this would be the now closed Incantations gift shop in Phoenix. This gift shop also caters to people of the Wiccan and other Pagan faiths. In case you don’t know, Pagan faiths are ones in which followers believe in more than one god (“Major”). Many times like with Wicca followers believe in and even practice magick*. This is the main reason the Christian establishment in Arizona targeted this small shop. Once word got out that Incantations was more than a normal gift shop, it was placed on a hit list to be annihilated. Immediately the owners started receiving death threats, bricks were thrown trough the windows and customers were harassed. This was nothing compared with what the exclusionists were doing out of sight though. They decided to pressure politicians to shut the store down. This pressure worked, because the politicians knew they could not be reelected without Christian support. In the end Incantations closed due to some bogus zoning law. I know all this because I live near where Incantations was located and was a customer myself.
Think about some of the rights as Americans we take for granted, and assume all other Americans have. We all assume that we have the right to marry whoever we want how we want. This only true for some of us; some religions marriage ceremonies are not recognized by our government, some are even prohibited by our laws (Robinson). The targeted religions for marital discrimination are mainly Pagan religions (Robinson). If people of these faiths have marriage preformed by their own leader it would no be recognized, therefore they receive no marriage benefits. This leaves people of certain beliefs the impossible choice of a ceremony of their religion and no benefits or a traditional Christian marriage with benefits.
We also take for granted that our children will not be taken away from us, unless we are a danger to them. Unfortunately, this is not the case, if you practice certain religions like Wicca or Santeria, you can have you children taken away from you because of your religion (Robinson). The main reason for this is a combination of ignorance and bigotry, although there is very little if any difference between the two. The reason I say ignorance is because many times children are taken simply because judges and government agencies involved simply don’t understand the religion the child is being raised under (Robinson). I use bigotry because in many other cases the child is removed because those involved don’t agree with the religion and claim it is harmful to the child to have them removed. Once removed the children are forcefully exposed to Christian values (Robinson). Some people may disagree with me and say that children can be harmed by certain religious upbringings. To this I say that I agree. But I do not think that it is certain religions themselves that are harmful, it is the extremists which exist in all religion.
For example, earlier this year over 400 children were removed from an FLDS ranch in Texas. The FLDS are an extremist sect of the Mormon religion who practice polygamy and alleged under age marriage. The children were removed due to reports of abuse, both physical and sexual, and reports of girls as young as 11 being forced to marry men sometimes as old as 70. These are legitimate threats to the children’s safety. Mormons are not the only Christian religion to have extremists either, sometimes on the news you will hear about Baptist extremists living in the mountains declaring war on the government, making explosives and hoarding guns and ammo. These too are legitimate threats to any children involved.
The most obvious case of extremism is Waco. These are all cases of extreme sects of normally decent religions, so why can’t we treat religions like Wicca and Santeria the same way? Teaching a child to love and respect the earth, how to perform magick*, and to use natural remedies before scientific ones as they do in Wicca do not harm the child. As a matter of fact it is less harmful than teaching to not see a doctor at all which is what Christian Science teaches. Yet Christian Scientists rarely have children taken away from them. When they do it is usually only when the child is dying due to illness that can be treated, and the parents have a chance of getting the child back when they have recovered (Robinson). Does this seem fair to you? It certainly doesn’t to me.
As this graph shows, America is a country full of different faiths: (Grapg will not apper in blog post for some reason but here is the link http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Religions_of_the_US.PNG
) (“Religion”). It also shows that the majority of these religions fall under the Christian blanket. As it stands now, these Christians are not holding to their beliefs of peace and understanding. As it stands now many followers of religious minorities like Islam or Wicca are scared to openly proclaim or practice their faith for fear of persecution or violence (Robinson). Hate crimes in America toward ethnic groups have steadily dropped over the years but hate crimes toward religious groups have risen with a sharp jump after 9/11 (Robinson). The religion that is most discriminated against is the Wiccan faith (Robinson). The most likely reasons for this would be one that Wicca is a Pagan faith which means that they believe in more than one god (Robinson). Many Christians see this as a sin and falsely believe that Wiccans and all Pagans worship Satan (“Major”). Second Wiccans practice magick* which most Christians see as a direct sin against God because of their interpretations of certain Bible passages. As I stated before from personal experience, if it is known that someone is a Wiccan they are subject to death treats and harassment. Many Wiccans have been beaten or even killed because of their beliefs. Unfortunately, Wiccans are not the only victims of this hatred. After 9/11 many people wanted someone to blame, so many found that person, the nearest Muslim. This was the “Christian” way to deal with this disaster; harass anyone who is anything close to those we feel are responsible. The two years after September 11th showed the sharpest rise in hate crimes for 30 years (Robinson). Now many will say that the people who commit these horrendous acts are a small minority. This might be true but those who aren’t actively involved just sit back and do nothing to stop the violence. In any violent crime case if someone witness the crime and does nothing they could be charged as an accessory, which makes the Christians who do nothing while others are harming religious minorities accessories as well.
Is there a solution to this religious intolerance? Maybe not, but we can work to make the situation better. For starters we must work to increase knowledge of one another’s religious beliefs. This alone would reduce the amount of hatred toward different religions. We must also focus on tolerance, let one another know that we may not agree with each other but we will respect each other. I believe that these things should start with the Christian churches that believe in treating other faiths fairly and tolerantly. I also believe that we should start letting politicians how we feel. Let hem know that we do not want them to us their office that we gave them to discriminate against non Christian religions. Maybe most importantly we must bring more attention to the issue of religious intolerance. I believe that a lot of people are not aware of the magnitude of the problem. We can work together no matter what our beliefs to make this a better place for all of us.
*Magick is the spelling used by those of Wiccan faith used to differentiate their rituals from the illusion of stage magic.
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