Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Religious bigotry is alive and well in America

Religious discrimination in America? In America, the land of the brave and the home of the free? In the world's first nation with complete freedom of religion? Oh, yes. In some ways, we've become the land of the cowards and the home of the bigots.

Here are a couple of recent examples. The first is from Gawker:
Irum Abbassi alleges that on March 13, Southwest Airlines employees unlawfully removed her from a flight from San Diego to San Jose, where she was headed to finish research for her Master's thesis. According to the complaint, Abbassi "was readily identifiable as Muslim by what she wore: a long shirt, pants, sweater and hijab, or Islamic headscarf." She was detained at security for a second screening, but was allowed to board.

When boarding, Abbassi says she was on the phone with a Verizon representative in order to activate her smartphone. When the plane was getting ready to depart, Abbassi alleges she told the representative "I've got to go."

Soon after, there was an announcement that an "administrative delay" would hold up the flight, at which point a TSA agent came on board and asked Abbassi to get off. From the complaint:
Once at the jetway the TSA agent explained to [Abbassi] that the flight attendant believed that she had been acting suspiciously. Although the flight attendant admittedly could not adequately hear [Abbassi], she reported that [Abbassi] might have uttered 'It's a go' into her cell phone.

Shortly after, the complaint alleges, the TSA agent determined that Abbassi was not a security risk, and said she could re-board the plane. But at the gate she was told that the captain would not let her board because the crew was "uncomfortable" with her on the plane.

Remember, this is America. How do you think it looks to the 1.5 billion Muslims in the world when we Americans are this bigoted and this cowardly?

And this kind of behavior is supposed to convince Muslims that the extremists are wrong? Maybe we should have tortured her a little bit, just to be sure...

My second example involves a group of people even less popular than Muslims. From AlterNet:
A few months ago, Todd Stiefel -- philanthropist and founder of the Stiefel Freethought Foundation, which provides financial support to atheist and other nonprofit and charitable organizations -- approached the American Cancer Society with an offer. He wanted local atheist groups around the world to participate in the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life program, as a national team, under the banner of the humanist charitable organization Foundation Beyond Belief. In order to make this happen, he made a generous offer: a $250,000 matching offer from the Todd Stiefel Foundation, which, as a matching offer, was likely to bring in a half million dollars to the American Cancer Society.

And he was stonewalled.

The offer was initially approved, and the Foundation Beyond Belief even brought on an intern to manage the program. But then the American Cancer Society stopped responding. Repeated emails and phone calls from Stiefel were not returned for over a month. And the eventual responses from the ACS ranged from apathetic at best to hostile at worst. As Stiefel told AlterNet:
Reuel Johnson of ACS was completely disinterested in the matching gift. He made no effort to try to gain the money and attempted to ignore that the offer was even made. When I brought it up to him, he referred to it as merely "fine" and then started complaining about how it was a hassle to ACS to have to try to track the challenge. Of course, it should not have to be a hassle; they have an automated system to track team and individual performance. I don't know why he acted like this, but something clearly was amiss.

After many go-arounds, Stiefel was finally told no. He was told that the Relay for Life program was focusing on corporate sponsors for the National Team program, and was no longer including nonprofits in the program. Despite the massive size of the offer from the Stiefel Foundation -- and despite the fact that several nonprofits are currently participating in the program, including Girl Scouts of the USA, Phi Theta Kappa and DeMolay International -- the ACS insisted that nonprofit participation in this program wasn't cost-effective, and would no longer be welcome.

Every attempt to find an alternative form of participation for the Foundation Beyond Belief was stymied. ...

Now, in case you're wondering if this is standard behavior, find someone who works as a development director for a nonprofit. Ask her what her response would be to a $250,000 matching offer from a philanthropic foundation. And ask if her organization would be drooling, celebrating wildly, and bending over backward to make it happen -- or if they would be evading, delaying, dodging, deflecting, changing their stories, treating the potential benefactor with irritation and dismissal, and finding an endless series of excuses for not accepting the offer?

And now ask: Why did it unfold this way with the American Cancer Society and the Foundation Beyond Belief?

Is it because the Foundation Beyond Belief are atheists?

This is America. You have the right to believe anything you want. I don't have to agree with it. I don't even have to refrain from criticizing it. But you have the right to believe it. Fundamentally, it's none of my business what you believe, at least if you don't try to force me to believe it, too.

All I ask, as an American, is that you treat me the same way - indeed, that you treat everyone the same way. Is that too much to ask? This is America, after all.

If you're such a coward that you won't fly a plane with a Muslim on board, then get a different job. I have no sympathy for bigots like this. That Southwest Airlines captain should be fired.

Likewise, unless your plan is to "pray away the cancer," instead of using medical research to find a cure, then the religious beliefs of your donors are none of your business. I don't care if you're a Christian yourself. I literally don't care. But you'd damn well better give me the same consideration!

For crissake, people, this is America? What has happened to us?

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