Religious bullying is a problem around the world
Vigilante enforcement of theocratic codes can crop up when a minority group doesn't conform.
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The ACLU is representing a group of anonymous students in Santa Rosa County, Fla., who allege that school officials created a coercive environment in promoting their personal religious beliefs in school and at school events. "The students are proceeding anonymously to avoid intimidation and threats of violence…," Mr. Mach said. Indeed, the list of complaints from those who are unwilling to go forward for fear of intimidation and possible violence "is far longer [than] the list of cases filed," according to Art Spitzer, another ACLU attorney. He said it is easier to win these cases in the courts, but religionist partisans win in the schools because "there are no judges in the principals' offices."Skip to next paragraph
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A friend in a northern Virginia high school said religious hectoring by students is "very aggressive and sometimes involves physical threats." He told of a young Jewish friend who is frequently told by other students that her religion is "wrong because you don't believe in God."
Judaism can be no less bullying, however, when it finds itself in the majority. Walk through Mea Shearim, an Orthodox neighborhood in Jerusalem. If you are a nonobservant Jew, or worse, a gentile, you risk being cursed or stoned. I was spat upon eight years ago for merely walking through the area once (no, it wasn't a Jewish holiday or Sabbath).
These incidents are rarely discussed because we fear giving offense. It's disingenuous, however, to pretend they do not occur. Intimidation is intimidation, whether it's found in Pakistan, Jerusalem, Florida, or northern Virginia.
Western civilization has become far too tolerant of religious intolerance that masquerades as freedom of religion. Young people today are taught not to be "judgmental," but without making critical judgments, how can we curtail threats to individual liberty? And amid such intellectual tapioca learning itself becomes irrelevant.
Zoe Oldenburg, a scholar of a most horrific outbreak of religious violence, the Roman Catholic Church's Albigensian Crusade against the Cathars of the 13th century, wrote, "the essential value of any faith must be judged by the effect it produces in the lives of its devotees.…"
Religion should have a humanizing effect on its adherents. Civilizing barbarians was an original aim of Islam. Christianity is supposed to cultivate charity for all mankind. The original idea of loving thy neighbor as thyself was first articulated in Jewish Scripture. Yet when religion loses sight of its potential civilizing leaven, it risks merely becoming tyranny in subtler guise.
Thomas Jefferson swore "eternal hostility toward every tyranny over the mind of man." Today, however, political and religious leaders tend to snooze their way through the various manifestations of religious coercion and intimidation reminiscent of a darker medieval world.
Walter Rodgers, a former senior international correspondent for CNN, writes a biweekly column.