That is why it absolutely infuriates me to live in the “Bible Belt.” I don't get to have an open discussion about religion because people either know nothing of the religion or are too close-minded to even consider discussing it. This brings me to Westside, as well as many other schools in the district. With the overwhelming amount of Christians that attend here, many students who aren't Christian are afraid to say so.
I was in 6th grade back at Valley View. Granted, the bullying was worse at Valley View (sorry, just stating the facts as a journalist), but I was friends with five people, not counting the tons of people I didn't know, who were heavily bullied for their religion--not just by the students but the teachers as well.
A few students who had moved to Arkansas were actually aware of the issue. I was making conversation with a new student, and the subject came up of middle names. I told him mine was Danielle, and he told me his was Muhammed. He immediately covered his mouth and whimpered,”I wasn't supposed to tell anyone that.”
My stepdad is Muslim. It broke my heart to see an 11 year old boy hide something as simple as his name out of fear of bullying. When I told him it was okay, that my stepdad was Muslim and I completely understood, he was so relieved; it looked like he was about to cry.
I had another friend who was Wiccan. At the time she was my best friend, and she trusted me enough to tell me. The only other people who knew were our teachers, who were supposed to keep an eye out for bullying. While in GT, our teacher started harassing her for not finishing a project. I'm not stretching the truth; the GT teacher was right in her face, raising her voice and implying that she was an idiot who had no right to be in GT. When my friend started crying and ran to the bathroom, the teacher rolled her eyes and told me to “go after her” before abandoning her and heading to the rest of the class. The students she treated well were the same religion as she and went to her church.
I wish I could say that Westside was different, but religious intolerance still exists here (not to mention racism, homophobia, and spreading rumors…). The good news is, the teachers seem to be fairly tolerant, which prevents a lot of problems.. in most cases.
In my world history class, we had a project at the beginning of the year involving major religions. Tons of religions, including philosophies not considered religions, were on the list. Islam, the second biggest religion in the world, was not. It wasn't the teacher’s fault; at the time she didn't have the credentials to teach history, and the school sent notes with students letting their parents know that the teacher was in the process of getting them. The fact that she had to leave Islam out of the list at risk of intolerant parents attempting to get her fired was horrible. Even when we were taught the basics of Islam in a general aspect, a child yelled,”Time to learn about ISIS!” and wasn't even scolded for it. None of it was her fault; she had to do it out of fear of losing her job due to intolerant students and parents.
It's simply not fair to judge an entire religion by the few extremists. If all Muslims are terrorists, than by that very logic, all Christians are members of the Ku Klux Klan and Neo Nazi party who claim their violent protests are in the name of Jesus. And that is absolutely false!
I am also NOT saying that they should force other religions on us at school. But I’m also not saying that they should cut religions out of the curriculum. I feel that we should acknowledge major religions, as they are discussed in history, science, and cultural/social studies. I feel that all religions should be treated with respect. Religion is a core belief, and often makes up a lot of who people are. Just because someone believes something different than you, that gives you no right to shun them or tell them they must believe otherwise.
A little PSA before I give these stats: I am NOT saying that all Christians are bullies or that being Christian makes you bad. This isn’t true at all! I am just trying to emphasize the reason why non-Christian students are afraid to state their beliefs (being outnumbered).
So how many students at Westside are Christian?
A lot of Christians, huh?
I also interviewed the same students to see if they found any problems with bullying over religious intolerance.
“No, I don’t think there are any problems.” - A Christian
“No, there isn’t any.” -A Christian
“No, I don’t think anybody really cares.” -A Christian
“No, there aren’t problems. I’ve never seen any.” -A Christian
“I think there are sometimes problems.” - Doesn’t identify with a religion
“Considering most students here are Christian, it creates an imbalance that can lead to bullying.” - Doesn’t identify with a religion
“A lot of people don’t talk about it because they aren’t comfortable with it. It also sometimes takes other forms like homophobia, which stems from religious beliefs.” -Doesn’t identify with a religion
“It’s not so much bullying, but an unsettling disposition when I explain to people that I’m Atheist. They look at me with disgust and say,”Oh… so you’re an Atheist?” They think I hate their religion or that I’m against them, when really I just want to have my own beliefs, same as them.” -An Atheist
Again, I just want to say that I am NOT trying to bully Christians. I’ve been ignorant to prevalent issues because it doesn’t affect me, and I just want to have awareness. The fact of the matter is that it can be, and is an issue (here, and at other schools). More than 85% of our students our Christian, so it’s important that a welcoming environment is still there for those who aren’t.
Just remember Westside, it’s time to: