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When Defending Our Rights Goes Too Far

Updated on December 11, 2011
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For those living in the United States, our First Amendment rights are given the most attention in our day-to-day lives. Usually, the attention is geared specifically toward the freedom of speech. We have a right to speak our minds even if others do not appreciate what we have to say. Of course, there are times and places that certain things should not be said and some comments are better made separately from the discussion or object being commented on if only for the sake of civility. Freedom of (or from) religion goes hand-in-hand with freedom of speech. We can say what we want to say because we are free to believe what we want to believe. These freedoms have been granted to us in the hopes of providing a tolerant and peaceful nation whose citizens can come together in unity despite our many differences. However, this fact is often forgotten when we stand up for ourselves after our rights have been denied or abused.

A well-known case of defending rights merely turning the tables is the effects of the Equal Employment Opportunity Act. This piece of legislation was set in place to ensure American workers were given fair chances for employment opportunities. Basically, employers could not use factors such as race and gender in determining eligibility for a job. Employees must be hired based on their ability to perform the requirements of the job. What they do or do not do on Sundays, where they grew up, and what their parents did for a living cannot affect the outcome of the hiring process.

The idea of EEO is that all American workers are treated fairly not only in the hiring process but also in the workplace. Even with equal opportunity in obtaining employment, minorities still faced discrimination through workplace harassment and stereotyping. EEO, then, provided the guidelines for teaching about positive workplace interactions. The result? Minorities were to be treated with respect and given consideration in task assignments and promotions as was hoped for. However, the "majority," which happened to be white men, were judged against. The courses on EEO implied that white men were the only employees and employers at fault in the workplace discrimination. As a result, discrimination against white men was often ignored or considered justified by past practices attributed to white men. In defending minorities in the workplace, EEO merely turned tables around leaving a particular group of individuals at risk of being mistreated.

Interfaith relations are the foundation to equality among religions.
Interfaith relations are the foundation to equality among religions. | Source

Today, we are seeing a similar pattern forming in defense of religious rights. Growing minority faiths, such as Wicca, are pointing fingers at and even blaming the majority faith in our country, Christianity, for the ills of the world. Wiccans are demanding recognition by their non-Wiccan peers as practitioners of a valid belief system deserving of every right as Christianity. They then make negative remarks or preach against the beliefs of Christians as though members of that faith are less deserving of the very rights Wiccans want. A common occurrence is Wiccans telling Christians that Satan does not exist. Yes, Wiccans do not believe in Satan. However, Christians do. Telling a Christian that Satan does not exist is like a Christian telling a Wiccan that Satan does exist. It is a simple matter of differences in beliefs. If a Wiccan cannot accept that a Christian believes in Satan, how can he expect anyone else to accept what he believes in?

Thankfully, with the creation of interfaith groups and their efforts throughout the world, these inconsistencies between faith groups are starting to show more positive change. Equality among religions is slowly becoming reality. Naysayers exist on all sides of the fence, but this attack of minority faiths against the majority faiths is finally starting to dwindle to less audible volumes. There is still a considerable amount of work to be done, of course, but hope for a positive future in a religiously diverse culture is far from gone.

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The biggest problem we are seeing these days in terms of tearing down the majority in religious aspects is the efforts of groups like the Freedom From Religion Foundation. In general, this organization has a very positive purpose. In a world where religious individuals outweigh non-religious individuals, those who consider themselves as "nontheists" face perhaps the most discrimination in matters of spiritual belief.

For those of us who believe in a higher being or sole creator, the idea of a universe without at least one deity is unfathomable. All logic in our minds leads to the only conclusion: God, in one form or another, exists. Atheists, then, are hard for us to relate to spiritually. Others may be agnostic or otherwise believe in deity in some form but simply do not associate with a particular religion or spiritual group. As humans, we want to categorize everything and waste precious time trying to convince these individuals that there is a "word" or group for them. We miss the point that they do not need a term or congregation to be spiritually whole.

Considering the discrimination nontheists face daily, groups such as the Freedom From Religion Foundation are most certainly needed. However, in attempting to defend their rights, they are playing a role very similar to the minorities in the EEO example. Rather than seeking equality as individuals who do not share the religious beliefs of the majority of the population, they are seeking to have the rights of the religious denied. Hubber Benoitsmidget shared her frustration in a recent case of such discrimination: "Wisconsin's chapter of Freedom From Religion is more than somewhat upset that the city of Athens, Texas will not remove their Nativity Scene from the lawn of their courthouse. ... If they don't believe in my God and they find our way of celebrating his birth offensive, that's fine too. But DO NOT tell us we need to remove our religious beliefs out of sight. They want us to be tolerant of their rights, now they need to be tolerant of ours."

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Granted, the group is mostly upset that the nativity scene is located on courthouse property and therefore connected to government. Separation of Church and State should be honored. However, the courthouse is local to Athens and should not have involvement from another state. Should any citizens in Athens feel that their rights are being violated, the issue should be handled internally by the city. The citizens of Athens may well have requested the nativity scene. Those not of Christian faith (or any faith for that matter) may have no problem with a nativity scene at the courthouse. Violations of Separation of Church and State should be handled by, you guessed it, the state and its occupants.

When an organization oversteps its boundaries, its true purpose is left behind simply to cause a stir in attempts to get others to see their ways as right. Good intentions mean little to nothing in the long run if the methods cause more problems. We all face discrimination and judgment to some degree at various intervals. Whether we are part of a minority faith, the minority nontheists, or the majority, we all have experienced negativity against us because of our beliefs or lack thereof at some point in time. Interfaith relations do well to bridge the gaps we have among the many faiths of the world. Nontheists deserve equal standing as part of those relations. When we stand together, we can defend our individual rights for ourselves and for those around us. Keeping tolerance and peace at the top of our lists during our defense, we can come together in unity just as our founding fathers intended.

© 2011 Evylyn Rose

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    • Evylyn Rose profile image
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      Evylyn Rose 5 years ago from Colorado, USA

      Jennifer, I agree completely! Different does not mean wrong and sometimes what appears different on the surface is very much the same when we get to the core of the matter. Thanks for your comment and vote. ;)

    • Evylyn Rose profile image
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      Evylyn Rose 5 years ago from Colorado, USA

      Jeff, thank you for such a detailed comment!

      Personally, I agree that a courthouse should not have explicitly religious decorations of any sort. Even should they incorporate multiple faiths, that still sends the message that being religious is somehow better than not. However, as was mentioned in the "Enough Tolerance To Go Around" hub by Benoitsmidget, why is the Wisconsin chapter of the group getting involved in a Texas issue? Would the out of state chapter focused so much on the courthouse had they decorated a tree leaving it open to being either Christmas, Yule, or secular decorating? Or would they have left it to the Texas group to handle?

      Many organizations of this sort (not just nontheist groups) get caught up on these issues outside of their area rather than focusing on their own. When this starts to happen, fundamentalism follows like the campaign some years back to make store clerks say "Merry Christmas" instead of "Happy holidays." The negativity comes from all sides whether as an organized group or by the individuals within the organized group. It's the patterns that seem to repeat.

      Unfortunately, the treatment of Christian holidays as they currently are is a matter of those holidays being declared as federal holidays. I recall Christian friends upset when Easter was no longer declared as federal. Christmas, however, has become secular for many households and as such can safely remain a federal holiday. Which holidays get special treatment in the civilian sector, on the other hand, is purely a matter of the business owner's preferences. Equality in that area, then, rests on their shoulders.

      I agree that fighting for a privileged place is pointless. I do not want to see "Christianity brought down" as some may imply, but rather to see real equality between us. Yes, that means Christianity loses a privileged state. However, I believe that in doing so, they will find much more respect and love from their local communities as we all will when we accept that no faith is better than another.

    • Jennifer Essary profile image

      Jennifer Essary 5 years ago from Idaho

      I agree with Jeff. One thing I've never understood is how some people believe "different" is "wrong" when the two words clearly have different meanings. If you don't subscribe to a particular belief or event then recognize that someone else does. It isn't wrong, it's just different. "It is better to have questions without answers than to have answers that can't be questioned." - bumper sticker

      Great Hub with a great topic. Voted Up!

    • Jeff Berndt profile image

      Jeff Berndt 5 years ago from Southeast Michigan

      I don't see any of the pro-tolerance/religious freedom organizations trying to get nativity scenes removed form private citizens' homes. I see them complaining about government, at various levels, giving pride of place to one religion over all others.

      When a city hall has a nativity scene, it's sending the message that "This is a Christian town." Non-Christians living in that town will get the message, especially if the city hall refuses to decorate for Chanuka, Tet, Eid, Ramadan, Samhain, etc when asked to do so by a resident.

      I think if we really treated Christianity equally (that is, the same as we treat Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Sikhism, etc,) we Christians would be in for quite a shock! We wouldn't get all our holidays off from school and work (or wouldn't get double-time pay for working on them), which would be fair, since Muslims don't automatically get Eid off from work, or double-time pay for working during Eid.

      People of minority faiths standing up for their rights (expecting their faith and those who follow them be treated equally with Christianity and Christians) is different from insisting on a privileged place in society, which is what Christianity and Christians have now (and shouldn't).