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Religious oppression

Cases of religious oppression because of
a person's practices, beliefs, and actions

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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 covering. Many:

  • 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 point upwards.

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

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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 "acceptable". 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:

"Incidents wherein [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 the workplace.

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.

  1. "Religious rules," Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. Department of Marriage and Family, (2003). at:
  2. "Hostility to Christians Becoming Endemic," Family Research Council, Culture Facts, 2004-JAN-9, Volume 6, Issue 1.

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Copyright 2004 to 2008 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2008-SEP-04
Author: B.A. Robinson

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