Welcome to RelPol, a student peer reviewed online magazine. This magazine is part of the assessment for the module "In God We Trust" @ the University of Hull.
For a country that prides itself upon its equal liberty, and takes so seriously its constitution, to what extent is America’s most treasured amendment met with such diligence when religion meets reality? The First Amendment, which demands that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or of the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances,” is an act of freedom on paper and through constitutional law in the eyes of the Supreme Court, but throughout American history, the citizens of America have contradicted and undermined their own basic right and the basis of American life.
From the birth of the first colonies, intolerance of difference was adamant due to the fear of the unknown. Colonial settlers who had fled Europe in order to escape religious persecution, ironically brought persecution to their own new found ‘virgin’ land, massacring the Native Americans through fear and misunderstanding of their Pagan rituals and celebration of the natural land. These actions of mass murder did not soon cease, but only spread through the nation’s history, as president after president removed the Native Americans from their home. President Andrew Jackson was the finest culprit in tainting America’s relationship with the Natives by his numerous Indian Removal Acts and creation of the Trail of Tears. This ironic mistreatment also spread to other aspects of Colonial life, including the infamous persecution of witches, and the mistreatment of the Quaker sect. The Salem Witch Trials and the Puritan relationship with the Quakers can be studied closely and thoroughly through Puritan literature, especially through authors such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, who focused retrospectively upon the mistreatment and wrongdoing from the time. It would have been thought that a nation so powerful and influential in the modern world would have been able to escape the plague of their past and evolve into a nation of equality and tolerance towards difference. However, despite the entire population being descended from immigrants and differing cultures from all over Europe, America is ironically still intolerable towards difference, with society conforming to the belief of stereotypes.
Modern day research into the American religious sphere has shown that intolerance between religions is not only still present, but also increasing. A January 2014 article from the Pew Research Center (PRC) reveals that in 2012, 74% of the population lived in areas that socially restricted religious freedom; that is 25% more than in 2007. However, this is not a relationship unique to America, but is instead echoed throughout the world, with mass religious intolerance being focused upon a few select religions. In July 2014, the PRC released data showing that Muslims and Atheists were the least tolerated religious sects in the eyes of the American people, with Evangelical Christians rating them the lowest. The same article provided information stating that Jews and Catholics were the most tolerated. This is both ironic and typical in the case of America. When looking at the religious history of the nation, it is ironic in that the United States of America began as, not only Protestant colonies, but as Puritan colonies escaping persecution from Catholics. However, it is also typical and not surprising that Christianity would be the most tolerated religion as that is what the politics of America was first built upon. It is also a little disappointing, as the Christian faith should have learned to exercise its teachings and commandments in practice by now, not just in theory. More recently, it can be said that Muslims have become the center of religious intolerance in both the social and political sphere since the 9-11 incident in 2001. Following this anomaly there was inevitably a spike in religious hate crime as fear of Islam spread across both America and the world. The fears and stereotypes that were caused are clearly still existent today, with direct attacks against the Islamic faith taking place. In 2012, the CNN news channel reported deliberate arson on a mosque in the city of Joplin in Missouri, while in the same year, fears of Muslim influence spread through the White House, with politicians criticizing the Secretary of State’s, Hilary Clinton’s aide, Huma Abedin, for being related to family members who had connections with the Islamic religion.
With this, it is clear that the freedom of religion is only a true freedom in the sense of constitutional law and in reality, society has never, does not, and probably never will allow it, due to its fear of difference and conformity to believe in stereotypes. It is a liberty which is used and abused for an individuals’ benefit and, although it is meant to be of equal availability to all citizens, unfortunately it is not, and the White House and the politics of the country are heavily influenced by the religious intolerance of the people.