14 January 2012

Dear America: Remember the whole separation of church and state thing? Right. About that.

Religious Tolerance

Religious tolerance: I learned it early. Two of my best friends were Hindu. Most of the rest identified with various denominations of Christianity, but we all had slightly different beliefs. As part of a catholic family, it initially baffled me that my non-catholic christian friends didn't believe in transubstantiation, the idea that the bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Christ*. The bread and wine** were mere symbols to them. I liked learning about what others believed because it felt important to understanding them as people and individuals. I went to religious-based summer camps with different friends. I occasionally attended their worship services. I saw their religion in their homes. Their religion was just another part of who they were: it wasn't something to get upset about.
*Cannibalism jokes at this point will be met with a stern face. Here we go :|
**or grape juice, in many of their congregations

All of that made me a bit sensitive to when people weren't being sensitive.

We played Christmas music every year in orchestra. I played Christmas music at my piano lessons too, and my piano teacher also always gave me Halloween music. It had sneaky tip-toe parts and interesting crescendos. So one day in orchestra, I asked our director if we could play Halloween music this year. No. Why not? "Halloween is a heathen holiday."

Woah. This is a public school in America.We play Silent Night every year. One of my best friends, who was also my stand partner, was sitting right there and she wasn't christian. Halloween is a heathen holiday?  What does that say to non-christian students? You'll have to play music for our holidays, but no way in hell will we play music for your heathen, devil-worshiping holidays.

How did her parents feel, sitting in the auditorium every year, listening to their daughter play music about the birth of the Christ?

Knowing them, I doubt they felt any particular discrimination. They were probably proud of how well she played the violin. They probably enjoyed attending a concert in which their daughter was playing. But they were also the kind of people who, although they were vegetarian as part of their religion, always bought at least one meat-lover's pizza when their daughter had her friends over for a party* and, whenever I was over for dinner, repeatedly offered to run out and buy me a meat sandwich from Subway**.
*Even though most of us preferred the cheese pizza, it was the thought that counted.
**I can, in fact, go an entire meal without eating an animal. But if I go two meals without animal-meat, 
I might turn into Angry Carnivore Woman and that's never fun for anyone. 

At Purdue, I asked a student in my chemistry study group about the necklace he always wore, and he explained it was religious. His whole family was Wiccan.* He couldn't attend a Saturday study session once because he was going home to spend a holiday weekend with his family. They were going to have a lot of food and family and fun. He wasn't going to miss it, just like there's no way I would miss Christmas with my family.
*It was  kind of awful at how shy he was about explaining this,  like I might 
attempt to smite him with a fiery cross or perform an emergency exorcism.

I also met atheists at Purdue. There were probably atheist students in my hometown grade schools, but who would know? It's not something that people really advertised, just like people who were homosexual didn't really advertise*. There was never any particular feeling of discrimination in those areas that I noticed, but maybe that's the key: that I noticed. Maybe the lack of inclusive feelings discouraged those people from feeling comfortable saying "I'm atheist" or "I'm gay." There was a group of students in my high school that met around the flag pole in the mornings before school for prayer service. Would an atheist student group have been as equally welcome? I'm not sure.
*Which was also sort of horrible, later finding out that people were gay but hadn't been able to say so then.

I'm not sure they were as welcomed at Purdue as one would hope, either. That is embarrassing. It is embarrassing that today, in America, atheists aren't always very welcome. People who don't believe in God aren't welcomed, are treated like they're somehow less than real people, or are un-American.

*cough*Separation of Church and State*cough*

When is America going to grow up and treat everybody like a person? I mean women, homosexuals, atheists, immigrants  everybody. EVERYBODY.*
*If I didn't include your particular group in that list, assume it is included in the word "everybody." 
Otherwise this list would go on for longer than Blogger will probably let me make posts.

Separation of Church and State

This year, as an election year, is gearing up to be a hard time for Separation of Church and State and religious (or non-religious) tolerance  tolerance in general. I wake up in the morning to the radio telling me how this candidate or that candidate is going to apply their religious beliefs to their presidential actions. *eyebrow raise*

There was a major victory recently for the Separation of Church and State. High school student Jessica Ahlquist recently won a lawsuit over a religious banner hanging in her high school's auditorium. This court victory is encouraging, but the fact that the issue got to the point where it had to be decided by a U.S. District Court is discouraging. And the harassment Jessica has gotten over the issue is horrifying. From the article by Mark Shieldrop:
Ahlquist today was dubbed "an evil little thing," a "clapping seal" and a "pawn star" on WPRO, a talk radio station, by state Rep. Peter Polombo. Students have threatened to beat her up. An anonymous commenter posted her home address on the Providence Journal's Web site last night. Readers on this website and others that covered the story have called her "a little snot," a "witch" and accuse her of seeking attention.
This is what people say to a 16-year-old girl for asking for something she shouldn't have to ask for  Separation of Church and State.

This is America. 

I should not have to worry about if my friend and her wife will be treated fairly, if they will be safe in an area that doesn't recognize their marriage, or if they will be able to adopt a child if and when they decide to have children.

I should not have to worry about if my friend will be harassed if it becomes public knowledge that he is gay.

I should not have to worry about whether my sister's education and skills will receive equal consideration as those of a male candidate when she applies for engineering jobs.

 I should not have to worry about whether my SO will be discriminated against at an airport or anywhere else if his Lebanese heritage looks particularly obvious.

My mom should not have to worry about whether I get home safe after my night classes.

And nobody should have to ask for separation of Church and State in America, or get harassed and threatened for doing so.

This is America. Can we make it better? Please?