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.