Religious Tolerance may not seem like a fight or movement in the way civil rights or feminism do. It's safe to say that at least every worldwide religious practice is represented by at least one believer in this country. And chances are there is never just one believer. Yet, in a country so diverse, and where religious freedom is guaranteed Religious Tolerance is lacking more than ever! Outwardly it seems like religion should be a personal thing and that it shouldn't matter what ones beliefs are over another's. And if you belong to a main stream religious group that is mostly the case. However, the number of non-mainstream religious believers is growing, not by a few each year, but by the hundreds of thousands. Over the last decade this country has seen an influx in the amount of Buddhists, Muslims, Pagans and other smaller less recognized religions. While believers in these groups are not legally at risk, their beliefs and practices do many times have to be altered to fit local and sometimes federal laws. Many states do not require employers to allow for time off for religiously based holidays, even while these same employers close for more mainstream religious holidays such as Easter or Christmas. Schools are not required to show the same recognition to non-mainstream holidays or dress that they do the more mainstream.
Up until the 1980s this country was primarily a “Christian Country,” and in many places that is changing slower than in others. Because of this Cars may not be sold on Sunday, Banks, Schools and many other businesses close for Christmas and Easter, and a written note from a clergy member is an accepted form of school absence excuse. Those of us fighting for Religious Tolerance do NOT feel these things are wrong! Although, we do strive for equality.
Throughout the 1980's, 90's and since 2000 the number of “Other” religious believers has grown exponentially. With the fastest growing religion in the US now being Wicca. A notion which just 50 years ago would have landed many in prison, regardless of religious rights and freedom. Islam has tripled in number since the beginning of the decade with many fleeing from war torn homelands. While employers and schools are not permitted to punish or demote on the basis of religious beliefs they are able to take “religious differences” in to account when considering promotions, scholarship applications, awards and other positive placement opportunities. A Jewish teen can be refused a scholarship due to his refusal to remove her “skull cap” on school grounds, which many schools are now siting as dress code violations under the common “hat rule.” A Muslim lawyer is more likely to be passed over for a promotion because of the amount of “personal break time” he needs each day.
Religious Tolerance is something many people see as a given in this country. When the reality of the situation is that those in the mainstream are given a preference over others. As a Pagan woman I have been asked by my bosses not to wear my pentacle to work because it is seen as “offensive material.” However, those who work with me wear religiously based jewelry and are not ever reprimanded...
It may seem like small things, but those small things add up. Religious Intolerance is a bi-product of ill educated people. What many people see as a way of life religiously is looked at as “strange” or “weird” by those who don't understand the beliefs surrounding them.
And the epidemic isn't solely in public places. Individuals are some of the worst offenders. Many non-mainstream believers keep their beliefs “in the closet” for fear of what their friends, family and neighbors may do. I have known more than one person through the years who has been physically attacked simply because of their beliefs.
A perfect example is when a close friend of mine bought her new dream home. The day before they started to move in her things she went to the house, cleaned everything and before leaving did a spiritual cleaning of the space. For her, it was a natural progression from cleaning the floors to cleaning the spiritual aspect of the property – her property! The next day she started to move her things in and there was a note on the door. It informed her that the neighbors “knew what she was up to” and “wouldn't tolerate evil on their street.” Ignoring it she moved in. The threatening notes continued and she was even forced to get the police involved. However, a short time later while her children and she were sitting down for dinner someone doused their porch and house siding with gasoline and lite it on fire... Thankfully, she and her children were able to escape through the other door, but the point was clear. Her religious beliefs were without doubt the reason her house was burned.
In a country where prejudice and hate run rampant this is a war! People are literally dieing because of simple uneducated assumptions about beliefs. The answer to this is simple... Education!
Understand please, that this movement is NOT an attempt to proselytize, or convert. Simply to educate. Misconceptions about the religious beliefs of Buddhists, Voodoo Practitioners, Pagans, Muslims, Hindus and even smaller branches of Christianity such as Ladder Day Saints and Jehovah's Witnesses are costing real people their lives. In many cases it's not physical death they are facing, but loss of income, expulsion from schools or just a simple relationship with their loved ones.
This movement, all be it a young one, is a strong one. It's not something which is going to die off. Religious Tolerance is a simple human right. In this day and age most people wouldn't expect to treat a black man differently, or refuse to serve him. You wouldn't accept seeing a woman being told she can't wear pants in a public place or have her passed over for a promotion simply because she's a woman. So why is it okay for Religious differences to make any difference either?
ABC's John Quinones, had a special on entitled “What would you do” last year. A small portion of that show was an experiment to see who would stand up for a Muslim woman when a shop owner refused to wait on her and then berated her with both religiously based and racial slurs... I was sad to see the answer! Not only were people not standing up for this woman, who mind you just wanted lunch, but they actually were jumping in on the side of this horrid shop owner! The hate was truly that open, that accepted. This is NOT OKAY!!
Religious Tolerance is not the same as Religious Acceptance. We are not asking that you Accept our beliefs as your own, or that you teach them as fact. What we are asking is that you take the time to learn the truth behind them, and accept that this country is open to all faiths. Understand that the many next to you may be a Pagan, but he would never hurt you, because his beliefs generally forbid it. Understand that the woman at the bank may wear a head scarf, but she isn't going to rob you or steal your purse...
Understand that we are all different! There are thousands or more religious groups in this world. Each and ever one of them is just as valid to it's believers as your beliefs are to you. And understand that just as we accept that your beliefs are yours and don't try to attack or hurt you based solely on your beliefs, we deserve that same peace in our life. Religious Freedom is a guarantee by the Government, now it's up to us as people to stand up and say Hate is NOT okay! The Hate HAS to STOP!
It's up to YOU and ME to change things. It's up to US to work together to stop the hate and to teach our children peace above all else. Educate yourself and your loved ones about the general beliefs of others and join the fight against Religious Intolerance and Hate!