Religious persecution is alive and well; different religions have different privilege


By Risa Askerooth
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The religious divide in the U.S. has never entirely been bridged. Even with the separation of church and state and a new push for tolerance, there is still a stigma surrounding religious minorities. Christians, for example, have dominated America since its founding, while those of other faiths, such as Muslims, have been the target of persecution and Islamophobia, which intensified after the al-Qaeda attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

Perhaps one of the most striking examples of this gap between religions is the almost-parallel cases of Kim Davis, a Christian county clerk, and Charee Stanley, a Muslim flight attendant. Supporters have flocked to Davis’ side instead of Stanley’s, in spite of the similarity of their cases; this overwhelming desire to protect Davis from persecution reveals the privilege and preference that Christianity is given over other religions. There is no mob to defend Stanley from a true instance of religious persecution because Islam has become unpopular, surrounded by stereotypes of terrorism and hate groups.

Making the issue even more complicated is the fact that Davis allowed her religion to interfere with her government job, while Stanley did not. Davis repeatedly refused and has continued to refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples and prevented her deputies from doing so, costing her five days in jail. Stanley, on the other hand, asked supervisors to be exempt from serving alcohol, and have other attendants serve it instead — an arrangement that worked until a complaint was filed by a co-worker, at which time she was suspended without pay.

Davis’ unflinching stand on the issue has made her a martyr for Christian values; she was joined by presidential candidate Mike Huckabee upon her release after posting bail, as well as thousands of supporters waving white crosses. Another presidential candidate, Rick Santorum, has compared Davis’ “persecution” to the victims that were shot during the Columbine High School Massacre of 1999. There have been no such ridiculous comparisons made for Stanley.

Unlike Davis, Stanley was not breaking a law, and even arranged with co-workers so that she could carry on with her job normally. It was religious prejudice and not a broken law that caused Stanley to be suspended; the same co-worker that complained about Stanley commented that she had a book with foreign writings and wore a headdress.

Nobody should be forced to choose between their religion and their job. While the separation of church and state is just as essential now as it was at the U.S.’ beginnings, this does not mean that religious identity must be erased. Professionals should be held to a professional standard, but they should still be able to honor their own religious beliefs. Americans need to realize that standing up for religion and discriminating against others are too very different situations.

However, despite the heated and hurtful debates that these issues have sparked, not all the repercussions have been negative. Davis and Stanley have helped to break the taboo on religious and sexual identity. Now, more than ever, people are talking about their beliefs. While this reveals hate and ignorance from people that has never been witnessed before, it also opens up the opportunity for forward progress. Seeing the differences of neighbors out in the open is one more step toward accepting them.

It has taken so long to reach this point of religious tolerance, and it will take another great length of time before issues like this can be easily and quickly resolved. In the meantime, everyone can have their own view and use it to generate love or hate, but efforts against bigotry will proceed and prevail. Just as Stanley is fighting against her discriminators and those denied by Davis certified their marriage without her, the people’s rights will, in time, overcome any prejudice.