Freedom of Religion denied: Taking up the good fight

Freedom of Religion denied: Taking up the good fight

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Image by Chelsi Taylor for
Image by Chelsi Taylor for

CHICAGO, March 14, 2014 — Diversity, freedom of speech and freedom of religion are being attacked. No one is denying it. But few are willing to admit that it is a war on two fronts. Attacks on the left and right flanks are both tearing away at the true foundation of these basic elements of our society.

An  incident at Sonoma State University last year highlights the tricky territory that must be covered in order to remain politically correct, and  shows what can happen when something, or someone, gets caught trying to watch their step a little too closely.

A student working as a representative of a club at freshman orientation was asked to remove her cross necklace. Her supervisor feared it might be offensive to some new students or make them feel unwelcome.

In an effort to be politically correct, the supervisor acted against the very principle he was trying to promote. By not wanting students of diverse faiths to be offended, he offended someone of faith.

When the supervisor, Erik Dickson, saw that Ms. Jarvis had not removed her necklace, he asked that she at least wear it under her shirt. Ms. Jarvis responded by leaving her position early and contacting a lawyer.

Wait. What?

It has not been noted whether Ms. Jarvis pointed out Mr. Dickson’s ironic mistake to him. It is possible that he simply had not thought it through completely. If Ms. Jarvis spoke to Mr. Dickson and felt he was truly oppressing her religious freedom, she could have spoken to his supervisor.

At some point someone at the university would have taken Mr. Dickson to task for his mistake. No one, including university president Ruben Arminana, believes the request was appropriate. Mr. Arminana sent out a campus-wide email apologizing for the incident which he called “absolutely unacceptable.”

Mr. Dickson has, in fact, reached out to personally apologize to both the president and Ms. Jarvis. Ms. Jarvis has not responded. She has, however, appeared on Fox News with her lawyer, sparking a debate over religious oppression at the university. She also plans to meet with her lawyer and the university’s Title IX Coordinator on Monday to request a religious accommodation to allow her to practice her religion.

Susan Kashack, an Associate Vice President at the university, points out that since the university has no policy limiting religious practice, the Title IX accommodation is not necessary.

When the Washington Times ran a story about the incident, the comments section exploded. Muslims are taking over the country. Liberals are using “diversity” to mask bigotry. A supervisor made the request, therefore the university must be educating students to hate Christians.

Conservatives and liberals on both sides of this situation have acted irrationally. The supervisor, while trying to be liberal, should never have asked Ms. Jarvis to remove her cross. Ms. Jarvis, while rightly offended, should not have contacted a lawyer without first contacting school authorities about the actions of the supervisor of her club.

Ms. Jarvis does not need special permission to wear her cross. Mr. Dickson needs to understand that tolerance and inclusiveness apply to all, even conservatives. Ms. Jarvis’ lawyer, who shall remain nameless, needs to stop trying to make a name for himself and look at the facts of this case.

In fact, looking at the facts is something we all need to do more often. While the malice and ill-will amongst us needs to be uncovered and dealt with, good people make mistakes, and when those mistakes are pointed out to them, good people truly regret them. But they have to be given the chance to do so. Preferably before the lawyers get involved.

Abraham Lincoln’s “With malice toward none and charity for all” is more than a little idealistic, but when we assume malice without allowing for its possible absence, we just create more.

As far as racism, bigotry and oppression go, we must go forth and fight the good fight. But be sure it’s a good fight. There are plenty of battles out there without making them up as we go.

This story original ran June of 2013

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