August 6, 2009

Personal Displays of Religious Symbols: A Double-Standard

angel with cross
In commenting on a recent post at Deep Thoughts on the subject of the pervasive nature of religious symbols in the U.S., I found myself conflicted. On the one hand, I agree with most of the others leaving comments in that it is not the personal religious symbols that bother me but the government-sponsored ones. After all, the many freedoms we enjoy in the U.S. include freedom of expression and religious freedom. Government-sponsored displays of religion, however, are unconstitutional, exclusionary, and reflect extremely poor judgment. And yet, I have to admit that something bothers me about at least some of the personal displays of religion.

To be perfectly clear, I love the fact that I live in a country where a Christian extremist can proudly wear a cross around her neck while wearing a Campus Crusade for Christ t-shirt and driving a car covered with Jesus propaganda. Seriously. I believe that our right to free expression is one of the things that gives the U.S. so much promise. If anything, I'd like to see this right expanded rather than curtailed. Regardless of how I might feel about the content of such a message, I am serious about preserving the right to display it.

So what bothers me about personal displays of religion? It bothers me that my right to express a different perspective is so fragile in comparison. Sure, I could adorn myself and by car with pro-atheist or even pro-science messages. I am free to do so in that arrest and imprisonment would be an unlikely outcome. However, I would also be far more likely to face discrimination, social ostracization, and assault for doing so (at least here in Mississippi) than would the Christian.

This difference is what bothers me. If I am expected to tolerate the near-constant presence of pro-Christian imagery in my daily life (and I do not argue with such an expectation), then others should be expected to tolerate a pro-atheist or even anti-Christianity message that I might wish to broadcast without resorting to discrimination, vandalism, or violence. Unfortunately, many Christians are not exactly known for their tolerance of contrary viewpoints.

As Autarkis reminds us in a recent post on this subject at Some Steps Ahead (update: link no longer active),
You are just as valuable as any believer.