This semester I got into it with one of the street preachers on campus, but my best point didn't come from anything religious in particular.
"I support our Constitution, especially my freedom of speech. Otherwise, I couldn't do what I'm doing today," said the self-righteous man in a private conversation we were having.
"What about freedom of religion? Do you support that?" I asked calmly.
"In some forms, yes, I do, but if I had my way Christianity would be the number one religion and there would be penalties to nonbelievers. I'd likely have the whole amendment about freedom of religion abolished if I could," he told me proudly.
I grinned. He had just proclaimed himself a hypocrite. I pointed out to him what I want to point out to you now.
Freedom of religion and freedom of speech go hand in hand. They cannot exist without each other. Need evidence? Check out our Bill of Rights; these two rights are given to us in thesame amendment. Abolish the amendment with freedom of religion and you abolish freedom of speech.
Our man-of-God was red in the face at not having a rebuttal to my point, and so are a lot of other Christians who discover this. I've spent a lot of time arguing for freedom of religion. Why? For the simple fact that I'm not a Christian, and I've only really been that way for less than a year. But because of that, even a white male like myself has experienced enormous discrimination and prejudice.
If you've never dealt with religious persecution then you're in one of two categories: (1) You're a mainstream Christian, or (2) You're silent about your views. If you're anything other than those two, you probably know the feeling of your freedom of speech/ religion taking blows.
Someone close to me gave me a copy of a very interesting book titled Why I Am Not A Christian. I have been spat upon three times, cursed at five times, and kicked once when I have read that book in public.
I am not the only one who experiences such hatred and prejudice. The very writer of that book, Bertrand Russell, was blocked from a teaching job at the College of the City of New York by religious groups and leaders. Why? Because he was open about his freedom of speech, his freedom of religion, and he would not bend on it.
Justice is blind, but it is often deaf and unfeeling when it comes to religion. Right about now the Christians reading this are getting fired up, ready to shout, "Hey, discrimination happens to Christians, too, because of their religious beliefs."
True. And sexual assault also happens to men by women, but it's just not as common as the other way around. Christians like to point out the difficulties they have faced in other parts of the world, but if the scope is narrowed to include just America, the prejudices are shockingly lopsided.
Think about it, freedom of speech is one thing, but forcing religion upon others is another. If a Wiccan was valedictorian at a high school and proclaimed "Praise Goddess" at the end of her speech, I could only imagine the anger and uprising.
If an atheist refuses to swear on the bible in a courtroom, it is not uncommon for the person to be held in contempt in smaller courts.
In ninth grade in North Carolina, a friend of mine was kicked off the football team for refusing to bow in prayer. He is an atheist. No action was taken. No justice was served.
Such is the case all over America. Freedom of speech is supported, but somehow freedom from religion is not. There are hundreds, maybe thousands, on this campus and likely millions across America, who simply cannot believe Christianity, nor will they ever. But because of the cruelty and oppression they would face if they admitted to it, they succumb to the majority and bottle up their opinions and beliefs.
It is hard to come out and proclaim such non-conformist religious beliefs, even with freedom of speech in America. Have no doubt, rights or not, you will be persecuted. But do not be afraid, be true to yourself if you hold ideas outside the realm of Christianity.
And Christians, be fair to us. We let you hold your beliefs, so please have the same respect for us.
That is, after all, our right.
This originally appeared in "The Red and the Black," the student newspaper of the University of Georgia in Augusta, and appeared in the Atlanta Constitution, April 2, 2001.
Greg Woods writes: "I grew up in Cary, North Carolina, but am now a sophomore at the University of Georgia. Initially I began as a computer science major, then switched to management information systems, and now I'm about to switch again but can't decide between English literature or philosophy. I love writing my opinions and discussing current issues. I am also a big fan of poetry."