Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Day 228: Religious Discrimination

I know I'm suppose to turn the other cheek, but my natural instinct when confronted with religious discrimination, even hints of it (and even when not directed at my faith), get my ire up like few things can. Two instances from the last 24 hours are telling.

The first was at a constitutional theory seminar at Trinity College. The speaker discussed a recent freedom of religion case here in the UK which involved a school prohibiting a teenaged female Muslim student from wearing a certain type of religious dress which contravened the desired unity accomplished through uniforms and caused other Muslim students to fear peer pressure to conform. The otherwise mild-mannered facilitator asked his privileged first question after the speaker finished and made a comment about how a judge should be allowed to distinguish between good, neutral, silly, and bad religions in permitting certain types of religious expression and not permitting others. I was shocked. There is a strain of constitutional jurisprudence touching matters of religious expression in the United States which disallows a judge or any other government official from making substantive, non-content-neutral decisions. Essentially, judges are prohibited from determining when faith is sincere by non-objective standards. This is bound up in respect for allowing people to differ in their beliefs. I thought – wrongly, apparently—that this kind of thinking would be universal in countries which profess religious freedom. How can a country claim to provide such otherwise? If judges were permitted as a matter of law to say that a religion was silly or wrong or bad, how is that religious freedom at all? The implication here was that a judge should be able to determine if the dress desired to be worn by the Muslim girl was a silly or wrong expression of faith.

I was upset, and seemed to be the only one affected in the small audience. I applaud and defend others' ability to practice how they please because I claim the same privilege. If a judge is given legal power to make content-based decisions regarding religion, what would prevent that judge from determining that my faith is silly? Isn't all faith irrational? (Strong word, I know.) But isn't that, precisely, the point? That a shepherd boy could kill a giant is amazing. That a poor carpenter could raise himself from the dead is out of human experience. That a boy in upstate New York could see God and Christ is absolutely fantastical. Faith is believing in things that, from the natural man's perspective, seem 'silly'. Believing in them requires a spiritual conviction, a conversion, that is beyond the six senses and provable science. It takes, as an apostle has recently said, Christian courage.

I opened my email this morning to find another form of discrimination. The Graduate Christian Union of which I am a member decided not to publicize the upcoming fireside/Sunday evening lecture on religious freedom because it would cause 'doctrinal irritations among our members (since it is sponsored by the Church of the Latter-day Saints). Too bad they got the name of the Church wrong, and too bad they allowed their prejudice to cause many members of the group to miss an important conference by a world-famous expert on religious freedom, something about which they should care deeply.

I obviously need to get better at turning the other cheek. I just don't enjoy getting hit...


  1. I'm so sorry to hear about this, Lorianne. This sort of thing makes me feel embarrassed by my country-men.

    Sadly, I see this sort of bigoted behaviour all too often. As I think I told you when we first met, my general impression of Christian people in this country is that they are closed-minded, judgemental and not at all "Christian" in any sense of the word that I understand. I agree that the two things you've described above are shocking and I find it quite ironic that I (as an atheist) seem to be more accepting and tolerant of all forms of religion than many religious people in this country.

    I absolutely agree with you that people should be free to believe as they wish and to express their beliefs freely. The only limit to this wide-ranging statement is that I do not agree that people should be free to express their religious beliefs in a way which may impinge on the rights of others (and that would include things like animal sacrifice). With that exception, I think that people should be free to speak their mind and express their beliefs as they wish. I can only assume that ignorance coupled with a fear of the unknown is what drives people to close their hearts and minds to things that they do not understand.

    From all of my experience of the LDS and the people of your Church, it is a wonderful faith and if there were more people like you in the world, then the world would be a better place. The very fact that you try hard to turn the other cheek in situations such as this simply goes to show how much more tolerant and genuinely Christian you are than the people who have upset you.

    Stay true to yourself and your convictions and try not to let the bigoted views of others get you down. As you know, this is also something that I have to deal with on a daily basis (for very different reasons). My hope is that if I strive to be a good and moral person, I will open the minds of those people that I come into contact with and they will be able to detach me as a person from the label "gay". If I am able to peel away that label, then my hope is that all of the ignorance that it comes with will also peel away.

  2. Lorianne, I thank you for your post and agree entirely. I have recently become fervently involved in religious freedom matters. Have you read the recent decision in MacFarlane v Unite?! This too makes me sick as it may mean that in the future Christians may even be banned from certain professions.
    I hope to see you at the fireside Sunday evening.
    P.S my name is Laura and I too am LDS.

  3. Wow Lorianne, I am surprised concerning the occurrence of both circumstances. What 'doctrinal irritations' would have been discussed? If there is one person to demonstrate intellect in religious conviction - it is you. Good luck with that. :) so happy I found your blog from FB! Di