24 April 2012

Christian privilege

"I have to say, as someone who is not a Christian, it's hard for me to believe Christians are a persecuted people in America. God-willing, maybe one of you one day will even rise up and get to be president of this country - or maybe forty-four times in a row. But that's my point, is they've taken this idea of no establishment as persecution, because they feel entitiled, not to equal status, but to greater status." – Jon Stewart

Hemant Mehta has an article up about a high school student named Jeff Shott who dressed up as Jesus on the school's "fictional character day". I thought that was pretty funny, and apparently so did many of his peers – even religious ones. But his teachers and the principle didn't think it was so amusing, so they asked him to take it off.

It's worth reading through the full article, just because it shows how absurd Christian privilege really is. His 'science' teacher flatly said that she does not believe in evolution, and that we all came from Adam and Eve. Teaching creationism, besides being stupid, has been rightly declared unconstitutional. But in those types of situations – which I believe are likely far more common than this one example – it's not like the students are ever going to get a quality science education out of some Biblical literalist, even if the rest of the staff puts the clamp on her preaching.

Meanwhile, PBS recently covered the Rock Beyond Belief festival, which gives a sobering insight into religious discrimination in the military. Again, it's worth watching the video, because it shows that religious people are entitled to certain privileges that non-believers are not. For example, atheists have requested that the military appoint an "atheist chaplain"; while that may seem a contradiction in terms, chaplains have access to the troops in a way that no other counsel does. If, as the Christians suggested, troubled atheists just go see psychiatrists or psychologists, those visits go on their military record and may compromise future opportunities. But a religious soldier can visit a chaplain for counsel as often as he or she likes, and it's both confidential and off the record.


This is the tip of the iceberg, of course, and absolutely nothing new. When it was ruled unconstitutional for teachers in public schools to lead children in prayer, Christians began throwing a fit that's lasted decades. When Jessica Alquist fought to remove a prayer banner from her public school and won the case, she received death threats. Not a year goes by when some religiously-motivated attack on evolution or reproductive rights doesn't fester its way through conservative legislatures. And, much like Jeff Shott recounts "a teacher leading the class in prayer openly criticized my brother for refusing to bow his head," students are still coerced into attending religious events.

Our constitution explicitly forbids government endorsement of religion and religious litmus tests for office. And yet, for some reason, Christians feel entitled to some sort of special status and privilege. After all, when was the last time you saw a Buddhist trying to get a monument of the Eightfold Path erected in front of a courthouse? It's vital that non-believers keep speaking up and putting religion in its place. And I mean that sincerely: religion has its place – in the privacy of one's home, among one's family and friends, and within one's community to the extent that it does not demand special status or privilege over other faiths or no faith. But reminding Christians of this fact is a sure path to cries of "persecution". Well, cry me a damn river.

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