Tuesday, November 30, 2010

freedom OF or FROM religion

Victoria loves Christmas, and even more than that, she loves decorating for Christmas. I've never been one for the Christmas decorating per se, but I do love decorating for other holidays (Valentine's Day is a personal favorite). So, as often happens when the two of us get excited about something, we went crazy buying and collecting various forms of holiday decorations for our office. We ended up with tinsel and ornaments, personalized stockings and holidays cards, a mini christmas tree (with ornaments!), a light up Menorah, dreidels, gelt, and a holiday themed table cloth to tie it all together. We were set.

As we showed off our decorations, Mitch (aka the Grinch, for this story at least) mentioned that it might not really be allowed for us to display religious icons such as the Menorah in our office in a public school. Concerned about what was permitted of us, we held off on the set up and sent an e-mail to our supervisor to get the go ahead.

We weren't quite patient enough and did some decorating without hearing the final verdict. The outcome is pictured below, a perfect scene of coexistence, if you ask me:

Ultimately, however, we were informed by our supervisor that according to the higher ups in our organization it was alright for us to display ornaments, tinsel, and winter themed decorations like snow flakes and snowmen, but anything that could be interpreted as a religious symbol was out. This meant no more Menorah and no more Christmas tree for us, sad day. (Don't be too sad for us, though, the office is still quite festive, pictures to come tomorrow)

Being the Religion major that I am, I couldn't help but start to think of the greater implications of this "ruling." To me it seems to boil down to the difference between freedom of religion and freedom from religion. As employees of a government funded organization based out of a public school do those we serve (and we in turn) have the right to the freedom of religion- that is, the ability to practice whatever religion we want however we want- or freedom from religion, the right to have no semblance of religion in one's vicinity.

These are two very different things. If I have the freedom of religion then it should be no problem for me to display my Menorah in my work space just like my student can take time during session to pray or another teacher in the school can wear a cross necklace- so long as none of us are imposing our beliefs on others or trying to convert anyone. But, if it is freedom from religion that we are truly granting then pretty much none of that should be allowed.

I understand why my organization made this ruling- it's safer and keeps anyone from potentially getting in trouble or misinterpreted. But, I wonder when being 'safe' in this way is going too far. When does prohibiting religious displays in an office turn into prohibiting displays of religion on one's body (I can't help but think of France and the headscarf fiasco)? And, how far of a leap is it from 'freedom from religion' to 'freedom from culture'- discouraging people from displaying anything related to their heritage or cultural upbringing? Most importantly, in my opinion, how many teaching and learning opportunities are lost when we silence or hide religion instead of allowing students to see and question it?

1 comment:

  1. http://www.amazon.com/Impossibility-Religious-Freedom-Winnifred-Sullivan/dp/0691118019