atheism, children, christianity, discrimination, federal law, freedom from religion, freedom of religion, proselytizing, relationships, religion, religious harassment, religious interactions, religious rights misconceptions, witnessing
I noticed lately that on various sites that I visit, there have been multitudes of posts about individual struggles dealing with proselytizing fanatics and businesses pushing particular religious beliefs. Within these conversations, it never fails that replies involve the phrase “we are guaranteed freedom FROM religion” and the word “illegal”. As if to imply it is illegal for someone to walk up to you on the street and start screaming about God in your face.
I hate to break it to you, but even though here in the US we are guaranteed that our government will not support one particular religion, and that this government does not have the right to force a belief upon you, it doesn’t guarantee you will not deal with a ton of peer pressure on the civilian level. Being an atheist, I still do not have the right to demand to walk down a public street and not be approached by fanatical idol worshipers. I have the right to pick a different street to walk down, but technically, if they see me, and want to continue following me, well, they can.
That’s where cease and desist laws come in to play and you have to file a restraining order.
Freedom of religion doesn’t mean you are legally entitled to never encounter religion, its believers, or views. It won’t prevent people handing out tracts, building churches, or even overhearing people discussing religion at work. It only has two perspectives to be observed and that is on the federal and social levels. Socially you cannot be forced to join any sect. Federally, as I said above, the government cannot dictate or cater to religion. Though I think they have indeed crossed the line on the latter. Of course, many states also have their own anti-discrimination laws, but those are for federally protected classes of people, like the disabled or veterans for example.
This gaping hole we perceive in our ability to pursue happiness can be a frustrating one. When I hear friends and thread posters bring up this subject, and relate how they are having their right to be free from religion abused, I can’t help but feel like the bad guy for putting it in perspective. BUT, if I can get them to listen long enough to the perspective on the situation, usually they then see the flip side, and play it to their advantage.
No one is stopping me from approaching churches about my lack of belief. Just like witnesses can tread on my property to share their message, I can tread on their property and share mine. No one is stopping me from passive-aggressively displaying a bumper sticker telling them they are idiots for worshiping idols. The federal government cannot stop the religious from pursuing your soul, but the federal government cannot stop you from trying to deconvert the religious either. Well, until they file a restraining order against you anyway!
If you are having problems with witnesses coming on to your private property. Get their name and information (if possible), or at least contact the church they represent in writing, telling them to cease and desist. Make it clear they will be prosecuted the next time they step on to your property. You are well within your rights to deny them access to your PRIVATE property.
When out in public, it is up to you to pick your battles.
A great example I have would be my local flea market. There are two religious booths inside. One is a pantry that offers Jesus Loves You balloons for every loaf of bread you take. You don’t even have to look at the booth and get problems. Yeah, you can imagine the pressure you get from the little kiddies when they see the balloons as you walk by. A sweet old woman never fails to walk over and ask my son, not me, if he would like a balloon, and I look like Satan for vocally saying,”No thank you.” I also make sure while she is kindly arguing with me that he ought to have a balloon to say, quite loudly, “We don’t support this kind of nonsense. You are just giving him a balloon to put me in a position to have to listen to your testifying or deny him the balloon and have an upset child as a punishment.” I usually add an expletive afterwards. And then vocally tell my child how bad these people are and to stay away from them.
The Scientology booth is even more fun. My ten year old is usually with me in that aisle because the Native American store is his favorite and I take him there every time. Well, they of course have the Dianetics books EVERYWHERE in sight and are offering stress tests. We kindly tell them no, and then I am vocally asking my son if he really wants to get a stress test from people who believe in a science fiction book about spaceships being destroyed by a nuclear blast in a volcano. We get several laughs from other shoppers around us as we go. Eventually, they will remember my face because we are regulars.
I pick my battles as carefully as possible. Watching an ignorant mother of two walk through the grocery store wearing a shirt that says “The Constitution only guarantees freedom OF religion, not FROM it”, is a wonderful troll, but not worth taking. It is her right to wear that shirt, just as it is my right to ignore her, engage her, or wear something equally as delusional if I wish.
It’s America, and I think our most valuable right is our speech. Use it! But use it wisely!
If you want more information about what the rules are, you need to read up on the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which I have a more in depth review of in another blog.