Freedom of Religion denied: Taking up the good fight

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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  • Hard Boiled

    uslthe author is clearly left leaning, ebcause if it were a liberal or a Muslim having their rights stepped on, not only would there be a lawyer, but Jackson and Sharpton would find a way to make it racist!

    • Jim Bozeman

      What Ms Goralka is suggesting is that logic and an organized approach be used to combat bigotry. I agree, but it’s increasingly more difficult when people of an opposing view do not limit themselves. When slapped in the face, our first instinct is to slap back. It’s not logical or organized, but sometimes satisfying.

    • Pamela J. Francis

      This is exactly the kind of knee jerk reaction the author is talking about. Louisiana just witnessed a case in which a Buddhist was told by his teacher that his religion was “stupid” and was penalized on exams because he didn’t write that God had created the earth, etc. yet neither Sharpton OR Jackson were involved, and the case was resolved legally and peacefully.

  • Pamela J. Francis

    Thank you for writing such a reasonable article. As you pointed out, this was NOT a university policy, and many people do not understand the difference between respecting religious diversity and oppressing religious expression–HOW many people think that you can’t pray in school? Even school administrators have failed to understand that Bible-reading and prayer is allowed outside of class (as long as it is NOT forced or sponsored by the administration), and so we get ridiculous posts on Facebook and articles that say we need to “let prayer back in school.” I really do wish people would get out of this “I’m being religiously oppressed” mentality. I’ve never yet met a person in America who was forbidden to go to church on Sunday or had his or her head chopped off for failing to convert to a certain belief. Seriously, people… get over it!

    • Pamela J. Francis

      I will point out that I teach in a public high school and have taught in several universities, both private and public. NO ONE has any policy forbidding anyone to wear their crosses, stars and crescents, etc., and in my high school, a bible study group meets in the cafeteria twice a week.