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What Is Religious Harassment?

A boss yelling at an employee because of her religion.
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  • Written By: G. Wiesen
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 03 September 2014
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Religious harassment typically consists of behavior that seeks to make someone feel threatened or emotionally distressed due to his or her religious beliefs or background. This can often be connected to cultural and religious persecution or prejudice and it can take a number of different forms. Such harassment is illegal in many countries, including the US, and may be grounds for punishment when it takes place at a school, workplace, or government institution. Religion-based harassment can occur with relation to any religion, and is not limited to particular belief systems or based on the cultural popularity of a particular religion.

There are a number of different ways in which religious harassment can occur, though generally it involves actions, words, or images intended to cause a person to feel threatened or distressed due to his or her religion. This can include physical threats or violence, including bullying, as well as verbal taunts and religious slurs and depictions of offensive imagery related to another person’s religion. The nature of such offensive material can vary a great deal. These forms of harassment can often take place within a workplace, at a school, or in a government agency.

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Comments or depictions of images that may be offensive to someone else’s beliefs are generally not enough to constitute religious harassment. The harassment usually must be ongoing, occurring after the harassed person makes a request for it to stop, and be intended to threaten the victim or cause the victim severe distress. There is also a distinction between religious harassment in a workplace, such as between co-workers, and displays of artwork in a gallery that may be offensive to viewers. Freedom of speech, at least in the US, does protect a person’s right to say many things, but threats of violence and language or images meant to cause emotional harm are not necessarily protected.

When religious harassment does occur, there are a number of steps that can be taken to punish those involved in such activities. Employees and students at a school, business, or government agency can be reported and may be subject to termination of employment, expulsion from school, and possible criminal penalties. Religious harassment is also not inherently connected to any particular religion or belief system. Even someone who is a member of a popular religion in his or her area can be targeted by someone else and made the victim of such harassment.

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serenesurface
Post 3

We are studying this issue in my class this week and my instructor gave us a great example about the causes and impacts of religious harassment from India.

In India, religious differences are often the cause of violence between communities, as is in many places in the world. People tend to be really sensitive to religious comments in general because religion is one of the pieces that make up our identity and culture. So when someone is harassed on the basis of their religion, they feel that their whole being is under threat.

This becomes a bigger problem when leaders and authorities also choose sides and choose to ignore or even promote religious harassment. For example, in some local Indian governments, this is sometimes done to gather votes from Hindu, Muslim or Christian voters.

There are different types of harassment but religious harassment is one of the most dangerous because it can easily lead to violence and often goes both ways. My instructor said that religious riots in India are a great example of this.

ddljohn
Post 2

@simrin-- I agree with you. I've never understood why people would want to discriminate or harass one another because of religious backgrounds. This is actually the exact type of attitude and behavior which causes polarization and fundamentalism among people.

I have many friends with different religious backgrounds. I have a friend who is Mormon, another who is Jewish and I'm a Christian. But none of us are particularly religious nor promote or force our beliefs onto others. But if someone says a discriminating or hateful comment about my religious background, I end up arguing with that person to protect my identity and background.

So I really believe that religious or other types of harassment is exactly the opposite of what should be taking place among Americans of different backgrounds. Because the more open and friendly we are to other religions and beliefs, the less we will fear them or be threatened by them.

SteamLouis
Post 1

I was listening to a radio program the other day and the guest was a Muslim woman of American origin who was talking about how her family faced religious harassment after 9-11.

She said that her kids were having a lot of problems at school being bullied, made fun of and outcast by their peers. When she tried to make things better with the help of the teachers and school principal, nothing improved and they were forced to switch to another school. She said her husband also fell into a depression after being ignored by his friends and coworkers after 9-11.

This is probably a rare situation but it opened my eyes to the fact that religious discrimination and harassment still takes place. It's very upsetting to hear about, especially considering the origins of America and the reasons why the first residents of this country chose to be here in the first place.

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