Elizabeth Warren Speech: Muslim Ban is About Religious Tests

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Click this link to watch Elizabeth Warren’s speech about the executive order this weekend. Some highlights:

“President Trump’s order has nothing to do with security. …This order is not about terrorist threats. This order is about religious tests. And the United States does not impose religious tests, period.”

To understand what’s actually in the executive order, check out John Green’s video.

This executive order, to put it bluntly, serves to bolster the far-right extremists who feel threatened by the presence of religious others. It’s an entirely fear-based move, and there is no reason to believe it will do anything real to improve safety in this country. What it will do, though, is separate families and keep refugees from getting back on their feet.

We must fight this. Call your representatives and urge them to fight the executive order. Click here to find out who to call and how.

I called the representatives for my area and had 3 different experiences. One had nobody in the office at the time (it was after business hours) but allowed me to leave a voicemail. Another had a full inbox, so I jotted down their number to call again. A third actually still had someone in the office even though I called around 6:15 PM, and he assured me that my representative had put out a statement against the executive order and even called it what it is: religious discrimination and a ban on Muslims. I highly recommend that you write down your thoughts before calling so that you are ready to speak your point clearly. This really helped me not freeze up too, since I don’t exactly make this kind of phone call every day. I don’t really have the time to protest right now, but I can make a few phone calls and you probably can too. I especially urge you to call if you live in a red state. Let me know how it goes if you do!

Also, if you attended any of the many protests of the past few weeks or even called about a different issue, I’d love to hear about it too. The one thing keeping me going is seeing the strong reactions of people nationwide. We won’t stand idly by while the president legislates harmfully. To everyone from the protesters to the lawyers working for free to help people affected by this executive order, thank you for fighting for the true spirit of the United States.

Happy thinking!


Religious Freedom and Privilege

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Discussions of religion often don’t include the topic of privilege, but the concept does apply to some extent. Dictionary.com defines privilege as “a right, immunity, or benefit enjoyed only by a person beyond the advantages of most: the privileges of the very rich.” The idea of privilege is often applied to discussions of race, wealth, and/or gender, but here I’ll be examining how it can apply to religion.

In the United States, where the majority of the population identifies as some kind of Christian, to identify as a Christian yourself comes with a positive connotation. I remember watching a recording of some old Red Skelton shows with my dad, during which the comedian said something like “God bless” to the audience. I’ll never forget the way my father’s face lit up when he heard that. He gasped cheerfully, “He believed in God!” At the time, I too took that realization as a positive fact about the old comedian. Now, I’m more neutral. I’m glad celebrities and other people feel confident and comfortable being open about their beliefs. However, since I no longer hold an association with the religion, such a proclamation does not change my opinion of that person positively or negatively.

Proclaiming one’s Christianity is not simply an exercise in a religious freedom in the United States; because it is the religion of the majority here, it’s also a great way to gain a huge following and support. Just look at Tim Tebow, and the vast majority of US politicians. For a person in the public eye, calling oneself Christian can lead to personal gain. It’s a way of utilizing the privilege that comes with belonging to a majority group. This doesn’t mean that everyone who proclaims his or her Christianity is doing so for this purpose, nor does it mean that these people shouldn’t be open about their faith. However, many politicians make their adherence to Christianity a fairly big deal as part of their campaigns. I suspect they do this because they know it will win over a significant number of voters.

With this in mind, I instantly thought about privilege the other day, when posters plastered in my dormitory hallway informed me that the Catholic club on my campus will be hosting a “Religious Freedom Workshop.” I don’t know for sure what will go on there, but the fact that it is being held by a Christian religious organization makes me concerned that they don’t realize that their club isn’t the one that needs to be especially concerned about religious freedom. My only hope is that they will welcome religious minorities into their “workshop” and consider their fears. I’m tempted to show up and see what happens, but might not have time or the energy.

My main concern is that this workshop will turn into a bunch of Christians getting together and whining about how they’re being persecuted, complaining that there’s a war on Christmas, and asking questions that ignore very obvious reasons for the status quo. I can’t help but picture them asking why so many people are against the teaching of creationism in public schools. Will they waste time bemoaning the fact that many also oppose allowing public school teachers to teach religious doctrine or lead a class in prayer? I’ve addressed several of these questions in my post Thoughts on Prayer in Schools so I won’t answer those questions in depth here, but they really are pointless. When your faith is the majority, your fears of persecution are minimal compared to other faiths.

If the Muslim student association or Hillel held the same event, I would have a slightly different expectation. Smaller groups have smaller representation, and have reason to fear being ignored, mistreated, or ostracized by the majority. Muslims especially have to deal with this right now due to the current problem of terrorism. As an atheist, I’m part of a minority group too when it comes to religion. To my knowledge, my school does not have a humanist or secular student organization, but I would hope that if one existed, it would consider participating in, or co-sponsoring this event, in order to steer the conversation in a useful direction. For atheists and other religious minorities, violations of religious freedom can mean things like this happening. For Christians, as the majority, concerns about religious persecution tend to come down to this question: “Why can’t everybody be expected to learn about and practice my religion since most people follow it anyway?” For religions with fewer followers in an area, concerns about religious freedom are very different. They have to ask: “Will I (or my kids) be forced to pray to or worship a god I don’t believe in, or prevented from worshiping the one(s) that I choose?”

You may be wondering why I care about this as an atheist. After all, atheism is technically not a religion; it’s a lack of belief. I care because there aren’t many of us compared to other groups, and we rely on religious freedom in order to simply live our lives the way we choose. Religious freedom, contrary to some clueless politicians, includes freedom from religion. This is because separation of church and state means the government can’t require you to follow any religion, or promote one over others. That’s not a bad thing. It’s what allows Catholics to continue to practice Catholicism, while Buddhists can be Buddhists and atheists can just not have religion. We live in a time and place where legally, all of that is OK. Let’s keep it that way, please. Let’s not whine about nonexistent persecution, and just work to promote the idea that if we’re OK with people having any religion they want, we should also be OK with them not being forced to practice ours. Just as I would never support legislation that would require students to pray in schools, I also would not support legislation that would punish someone for praying by him or herself in public. Leading prayer can be inappropriate in some situations, but sitting down and folding your hands before a meal is not and should not be against the law. However, nor should digging in and chowing down immediately with a thought to thank your mom who actually made you that sandwich.

What do you think about religious freedom and privilege? As usual, feel free to comment. All opinions are welcome, just be respectful and think things through before posting.

Happy thinking!


Thoughts on Prayer in Schools

I spent some time at home from school for the weekend, and got into a pleasantly civil discussion with my extremely Catholic brother about prayer in schools. Basically, he wanted to know why atheists tend to oppose it. After all, isn’t preventing prayer violating freedom of religion? In the process of answering him, I thought, well, that’s a good topic for a blog post too. Here’s as brief of an explanation as I can muster.

I used to think that preventing prayer in schools (and it must be pointed out that the prayer that is being “prevented” in my country is nearly always Christian), was a terrible idea. After all, God is watching over us, and it can be very important for religious people–students and teachers alike–to acknowledge Him as they start their day, and ask for his blessings and guidance. Now I’m going to say something surprising. I don’t have a problem with people praying. I used to do it all the time, and when I was stressed out, nervous, or afraid, it brought me comfort, and I’m sure it does the same for most believers.

As far as I am aware, the United States has laws against teacher-led prayer in public schools. (They don’t apply to schools with religious affiliations as far as I am aware. I briefly attended a Catholic High School, and we prayed the Hail Mary in some form before most of our classes. They do, however, apply to public institutions, which are not supposed to have teacher-led prayer in the classroom.) If praying isn’t a problem for me, why do I think this rule is important to uphold in public schools?

Because while praying isn’t a problem, forcing people who don’t believe or who worship a different deity than you to pray to your deity is. Imagine you are a Christian student attending school in an Islamic nation, and Muslim prayers to Allah are a mandatory part of your school day. How do you feel? These are not your prayers. This is not your faith. If they are mandatory, then you have no choice but to participate in them, regularly. One can argue that this could be seen as worshiping “false Gods,” something that certainly violates freedom of religion.

Let’s say that prayer isn’t mandatory, and you do have a choice. The school is still choosing one religion over all others, and promoting practice of that one religion among the student body. What about other faiths? If prayer for one religion is to be allowed, shouldn’t prayer for all faiths be encouraged in this way? To do this in a truly inclusive way in a religiously diverse school would eat away at precious class time trying to hold prayers that would appease the people of different faiths. Wouldn’t it be easier for everyone involved if prayer were simply a private matter, which students (and teachers) were of course welcomed to do, but which was not squeezed in to the school’s already tight schedule? This would avoid, at a bare minimum, alienating people of different faiths, and in religiously diverse schools would prevent large chunks of students’ time being devoted to appeasing multiple faiths.

I realize that to some, this may sound like an effort to be too inclusive. Why do these people of other religions deserve to be treated this way? They’re not the majority. A Jewish student who doesn’t want to pray to Jesus is certainly less common in the United States as a whole than the Christian student who wants to. But that doesn’t mean that we should alienate that student in favor of the majority. It’s for reasons like this that our government isn’t a straight democracy. Sometimes what the majority wants actually hurts minorities and limits their freedoms. As an atheist, were I still in high school, I would feel very uncomfortable in my former Catholic school, because those prayers are part of the day, and to pray them would be a lie for me. Even if I did have faith, I would feel the same way as a Muslim, Jew, or Hindu.

Regardless of whether or not you think that this country was founded on “Christian” values, it was largely colonized originally by people seeking freedom of religion, often fleeing persecution in their homelands. There have been plenty of cries for “religious freedom” by the Christian majority, and I support their right to demand it. However, it’s ridiculous to cry “persecution” and demand religious freedom for your own majority without also ensuring that other groups are extended that same freedom. In the nature of fairness, the best way for schools to create an environment friendly to students of all faiths, is to promote none, and allow students to practice them as they see fit. Students in public schools are not forbidden to pray. Saying grace in the cafeteria or praying “Dear God, help me with this test,” will not get you suspended. But that freedom is extended to students of all faiths, and has to be, in order for these schools to be truly religiously “free.”

Happy Thinking!