Grad student essay contest third place: When religion spreads hate – By Ashley Peralta

FFRF awarded Ashley $1,000.

By Ashley Peralta

When I was 12, I stopped saying the same Pledge of Allegiance that the rest of my class was chanting. If we truly were “one nation under God,” why was it that so many people were spreading hate about Muslims? Why was it that people sang Christmas songs, but I never heard about Chanukah? I did not understand why so many supposedly loving gods allowed their followers to be hateful. So I stopped believing that one fully existed when I was 12.

When I was 14, I realized that friends stopped talking to me when I told them I did not go to church, nor did I want to. President Obama became president and people questioned what kind of Christian he could be, and I learned in my government class that every president of the United States had been Christian, as that belief would stay true to the American way.

When religion and politics blend, we have instances such as Kim Davis using her religious freedom to deny the rights of others. Planned Parenthood can stop being funded in Texas, resulting in low-income women with little to no resources being forced to travel across the state to receive services.

When this happens, people use their beliefs to interpret laws and validate their actions without consideration for other groups. Because I grew up around mostly Christians, I was socialized into thinking that lying and not believing in Jesus would send me to hell. The media would simply validate the opinions of those constantly around me, with faint protest from the few who were brave enough to oppose the majority.

When I came to college, I saw how hateful educated members of society were to their fellow human beings. My belief that my college experience would be different from high school changed quickly when Christian religious fanatics would spit and shout at Muslim girls walking by, or yell at same-sex couples exchanging sweet words to one another.

Things deteriorated more rapidly once Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz became serious contenders for the Republican nomination for president. Evangelical extremists and xenophobic bigots were suddenly being publicized and followed to the point that gun lobbyists were advocating for their weapons to be at the conventions, and Mexicans were told that there would be a mass deportation. An extremist Christian targeted Planned Parenthood, and not a month later we had another shooting in San Bernardino by ISIS supporters.

All of these attacks were in the name of a higher power, or the individual’s interpretation of what their God sees as “just.” Saying I was voting for a Democrat was met with scorn; meanwhile, hate perpetuated as politicians encouraged others to fall back on faith in times of crisis.

Facebook filled with “Prayers for Paris” or “Prayers for Orlando” as religion took a dark twist — as it has for centuries — and people used God as justification for inflicting violence. While all of this is happening in our world, as our fellow humans are being bombed, burned, shot or tortured in the name of Allah, Jesus or whichever higher being, the prayers for the afflicted did nothing to stop the continued violence. The media coverage of our politicians’ ignorant remarks about race, women’s rights and sexual orientation did not stop the fanatics from inflicting more harm; it merely encouraged the hate to grow faster.

God mixed into politics puts people like me at risk just being out in the world because I do not belong to any majority group.

America will not be “great again” when those in power feel they can speak for the underrepresented groups as they have been for centuries. Christians cannot speak on my behalf, men cannot speak on my behalf, whites cannot speak on my behalf, and if religion continues to bleed into our political justice system, more lives will be at risk for simply being different.

The United States is supposed to encourage diversity, but in today’s society, diversity is unsafe and we as a people will grow more disconnected and become more intolerant unless church and state officially disconnect.

Ashley Peralta, 22, attends the School of Education and Human Development at the University of Colorado in Denver. She is working toward a master’s degree in early childhood special education. She is involved in social justice issues and works with underrepresented minorities, including those with intellectual, physical and developmental disabilities.

Freedom From Religion Foundation