Cases of religious
oppression because of
a person's practices, beliefs, and actions
An example of oppression because of of person's religious practices:
Many religious suggest, expect, or require their members to wear various types of head
- Sikh men wear a turban.
- Jewish men wear a yarmulke -- a skullcap.
- Muslim women wear a hijab -- a scarf which covers their hair.
Similarly, many people wear religious jewelry. Many:
- Roman Catholics wear a necklace with a crucifix.
- Protestants wear a cross.
- Jews wear a star of David -- a six pointed star.
- Wiccans wear a pentacle -- a five pointed star inside a circle with one
Occasionally, these practices are not permitted -- particularly in public
schools. One example involved a 15 year old Jewish student, Ryan Green, in a
Biloxi, MS high school during 1999. Although there have been
many more recent
examples of similar religious oppression, we cite this event because of the unusual show of
unanimity by prominent of religious leaders in support of the student.
Green's teacher forbade him from visibly wearing a Star of David
symbol. Ryan's father is Jewish and his mother is Christian. He was brought up
in both faiths. During the summer holidays, his grandmother talked to him about
his Jewish heritage and gave him a Star of David to wear. The Harrison County
school board voted unanimously to back the teacher. They were concerned that
someone would mistakenly interpret the Star of David as a gang symbol. The board also
decided to continue to allow Christian students to freely wear crosses and
crucifixes. Tom Green, Ryan's father told the school board: "I don't
appreciate calling the Star of David a gang symbol." Critical responses came
from many prominent Christians and Jews, including Bill Bright, , Rabbi Yechiel
Eckstein, Jerry Falwell, and Pat Robertson. Faced with a wall of opposition from
well-known religious leaders, the school board reversed its decision a few weeks
later. More information
An example of oppression because of person's religious beliefs:
There are dozens of "hot" religious topics
over which the public is seriously split. The two most active
conflicts currently relate to equal rights for homosexuals, and
abortion access. We will
use an example of gay and lesbian rights here.
Much of the opposition to equal rights for homosexuals is concentrated among
Fundamentalist and other Evangelical Christians, their denominations, and para-church
groups. As early as 1998, most American adults considered same-sex sexual behavior
However, a Barna Research poll in 2001-AUG -- three years later -- showed that 95% of
Evangelicals still believed that homosexuality is not "an acceptable lifestyle."
On 2004-JAN-11, the Family Facts newsletter published by the
Family Research Council -- a Fundamentalist Christian group -- contained an
article titled "Hostility to Christians Becoming Endemic." They
described several instances where conservative Protestants felt under attack
because of their religious beliefs or affiliation. They commented:
[conservative] Christians are being silenced or punished for adhering to their beliefs are on the rise, while
anti-Christian hate speech is tolerated in the public square to an alarming degree. Examples abound in the worlds
of business and academia."
One of the examples cited involved AT&T. The company had asked all
of its employees to sign a "certificate of understanding"
that would commit them to "fully recognize, respect, and value the differences among all of us...[including]..."sexual
orientation." Albert Buonanno, a devout Baptist, told his supervisor
that he had no intention of discriminating against or harassing homosexuals.
However, he felt that he could not honorably sign the statement because he believed
that it contradicted biblical teaching. Like most
conservative Protestants, he probably believes that God hates homosexual
behavior and that the Bible forbids it. Buonanno was fired the next day. This is
a clear case of an individual being required to choose between violating his religious beliefs,
and losing his job.
Presumably, if the employer had asked the employees to "fully recognize and
respect the rights of everyone, including homosexuals, to work in an environment free of discrimination
and harassment," then Buonanno would have readily signed. But the
document required Buonanno to "respect and value" homosexuality.
An example of oppression because of a person's religiously-inspired actions:
The previous examples in this section dealt with the victimization of
individuals because of their religious affiliation, beliefs or
practices. This case is different. It involves a person who was discriminated against because of
actions that they took on a controversial social topic: homosexuality. We suspect that
the employee in this case believed that homosexual behavior is inherently sinful,
chosen, abnormal, unnatural, and changeable. But he
allegedly took action on the basis of his beliefs to harass gays and lesbians in
With the overwhelming majority of conservative Christians
opposed to equal rights for gays and lesbians, one can expect some to run afoul
of various regulations -- notably in schools and in the workplace where freedom
of speech is more restricted than it is elsewhere. It is also to
be expected that many religious conservatives will interpret this oppression as an attack on their
personal religious beliefs. To some of them, religious freedom means more than the
ability to follow theological beliefs and religious practices of their chosen faith group. Freedom
also involves the right to take these beliefs and convert them into actions that
harass, hurt, or restrict the freedom of others.
Hewlett-Packard conducted a diversity program which had the slogan: "Diversity is Our Strength." It
was supported by posters in the workplace which showed gays and lesbians at work. Rich Peterson, a long-term HP employee, made
some posters of his own. They featured Bible verses which, in most English translations of the Bible, appear to
condemn all homosexual behavior. Peterson had allegedly admitted that this quotation was "intended to be
hurtful," and that its purpose was to distress gay employees so that
they would be motivated to change their behavior. After he refused to take his posters down, he was fired.
Peterson sued, and lost at trial.
The trial court's decision was upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Their decision said that:
"Hewlett-Packard's efforts to eradicate discrimination against homosexuals in its workplace were entirely consistent with
the goals and objectives of our civil rights statutes generally." They
ruled that his posting of the scriptural
verses harmed the company's efforts to "attract and retain a qualified, diverse work force, which the company reasonably
views as vital to its commercial success." Allowing Peterson to retain his posters would have harmed HP's effort to
"attract and retain a qualified, diverse work force, which the company reasonably views as vital to its commercial success.
" More details.
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- "Religious rules," Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.
Department of Marriage and Family, (2003). at:
- "Hostility to Christians Becoming Endemic," Family Research
Council, Culture Facts, 2004-JAN-9, Volume 6, Issue 1.
Copyright © 2004 to 2008 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally written: 2008-SEP-04
Author: B.A. Robinson