Religious Discrimination in Public Schools
Is freedom of religion assured to those that have no religion? Or how about those that do not choose to belong to the mainstream western religions, such as Judaism or Christianity? The majority of society, being based mainly on those Judeo-Christian beliefs, looks upon atheists and non-Judeo-Christians negatively. In my experience, this has happened outrageously often in schools, which should be protected from harassment, not just sexual but also religious. Indeed, I have come to the conclusion that religious harassment is rampant in today's society.
How bad is it you may ask? When I told a very good friend of mine that I was an atheist, he lost his normal good humor and was instantly shocked. We stayed friends, but he still has an extremely conservative view of religions, practically hating every religion except for Catholicism. Why does this kind of behavior happen in schools; learning facilities that are to be used for education, not converting and ridiculing those who have different beliefs than the majority of the school populace. Non-Judeo-Christians are pushed out of a society built on the Judeo-Christian beliefs of tolerance! There are many stories circulating about this kind of harassment, many anti-atheistic and in fact anti-Non-Christian speakers, more than the author is willing to list, and widespread ignorance of non-Christian religions.
Some stories of the oppression of non-Judeo-Christian are not really stories, but wide spread rumors that have leaked into the brains of many a well-meaning Christian. For example, there is a common link between atheism and communism. This arises from the time period in which Stalin abolished religion from the Soviet Union, in order to gain total control over the population's lives. Atheists, however, are perhaps the biggest patriots in the country, as this is one of the few countries in which they are allowed to be atheists.
Also, from the results of a poll by Barna Research LTD show that 50% of the average Christians in America view atheists as having a negative contribution to society. Islam, by contrast, is considered negative by only 24% of Americans, although this may have changed after the World Trade Center bombings. Other stories are those circulating around that atheists somehow want to convert the religious to atheism. I renounce that as a blind way to oppress and cause disapproval of atheists, as many atheists could actually care less what others believe or don't believe. Still others believe that atheism is actually another term for Satanism. These are completely and totally different beliefs. Satanism believes in the pagan symbol of Satan as a god, or sometimes the Egyptian god Set, while atheists believe there are no gods at all. Vocal speakers who claim to be speaking on the behalf of whatever god they represent pass many of these ideas along.
As I said, there are many speakers that harass and ridicule atheists and non-Judeo-Christians. Jerry Falwell, who once said, "If you're not a born-again Christian, you're a failure as a human being," expressing a deep hatred of people not of his faith, is one example. Even a treasured organization, the Boy Scouts, has said, "...once a person admits to not believing in God, this raises the question of whether or not that person believes in America..."showing a bias against atheists.
Need more proof of the terrible epidemic of lies and mockery? Turn on just about any televangelist on just about any day, and you will get an earful of the things that high school kids are saying to each other, and usually not to a crowd of the peers as the evangelists, but directly harassing the people whom the evangelists say are going to hell. For even more ultra-conservative, and some might say downright crazy, ideas from Christians about other religions, read the website ExposingSatanism.com. What could cause these people to produce and tell such lies and treacherous deceits? Some people might say madness, or a strongly imbedded psychological disorder. But what about the kids spouting off the same things, even though they have most likely never listened to Jerry Falwell in their lives? The most likely culprit is ignorance of religions with beliefs that differ from their own, maybe only slightly, as in Christianity and Islam, or greatly, as in Wicca and Judaism.
It is well known that ignorance is a plague that has descended upon many school age kids like the biblical account of the exodus of the Jews from Egypt. But nowhere is this ignorance greater than in the topic of religion. Teachers can hardly be blamed for this, as there's no telling if word may get out that religion is being taught in school, and, no matter how balanced the curriculum is, be sued by either the parents seeking restitution for their child's "trauma" of being preached to about Buddhism and Taoism.
It still must be said however, that students do no learn enough about any religion, especially those they may encounter should they ever travel abroad, or move to less religious areas, or areas that contain ethnic groups that are highly religious in a different religion. When asking students about their knowledge of their own religion, and asking a few questions about it afterwards, the author found that the majority of students are Christian and know more than is regarded as common knowledge about their religion. However, when even the name is mentioned of atheism, the people being questioned usually reply with blank stares, knowing nothing of what atheism could possibly mean. Others still have a vague idea of what atheism is, but use one of the misconceptions above, such as atheism being a different name for Satanism. Even more frequently, whether or not the person knew what atheism was, when asked about another infrequently encountered religion, such as Buddhism, the author was met with gross misconceptions, such as Buddhists believing in a supreme being and worshipping cows, and in general confusing Buddhism with Hinduism and a few other Eastern religions, such as Taoism or Confucianism. Taoism and Confucianism met with blank stares similar to those of being questioned about atheism.
We have now seen that religious intolerance among high school kids stems from a lack of education about infrequent religions, and misconceptions brought on by Fundamentalist evangelists and common stories and ideas that are merely rumors of things that may or, more likely, did not happen. How can this trend of religious harassment be stopped? The solution is actually a simple one that would have been taught a long time ago, had not fundamentalist Christians been busy attempting to devise curriculums themselves in order to further Christianity, causing the ACLU and other groups dedicated to preserving the separation of church and state to become wary of any religion being taught in school. It is now being taught as a part of history, as well it should be, as that way there is no evangelism, only facts from historical records. This also allows students to view religions from the outside in, showing them things they didn't originally see about their chosen belief system, possibly strengthening or causing them to find a new religion. Religions could also be allocated time in the curriculum in optional Philosophy classes, or philosophical after-school activities. Any sort of contact with other religions can prove beneficial to the developing mind of teenagers, especially during the high school years when the teenagers are suddenly being thrust into the role of an individual, and must choose their own beliefs. As individuals, they must make their own decisions, otherwise what kind of individual are they? Not only must they learn about other religions, they must also learn to question all religions they encounter, even their own. Questioning their own beliefs may not be the most comfortable thing for teenagers to do, this author gives his word on, but it does give them a far enhanced perspective of the world that surrounds them and of their peers in their religion.
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