OP-ED: An Appeal for Religious Tolerance at BHSEC

Ifeoluwa Aiyelabowo, ’15

In addition to having students of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds, BHSEC is home to lots of religious diversity. Religious diversity is important because it makes BHSEC feel like a mini international community. Therefore, it enables students to better understand the various points of view that people have all over the world. Religion is more important to some BHSEC students than it is to others. But a common thread that connects many BHSEC students, however, is that religion is not discussed much outside of class. One student said, “I don’t really think we see [religion] in school. It is not really a big part of the BHSEC community.”

When religion is in fact discussed, there tends to be a visible line between the religious and nonreligious students. One semi-religious peer of mine said, “BHSEC is liberal, so we tend to leave religion out of discussion, and when we discuss religion, it is in a critical way.” At BHSEC, students tend to criticize religion by analyzing religious texts and debating themes like logic and morality.

Thinking critically is important and valued at BHSEC, and this extends to religion. It is interesting that, despite such an emphasis on criticism, Bard College, the school from which BHSEC takes it educational ideology, has retained its 154-year-old Biblical motto, “I shall give thee the crown of life” (Revelations 2:10).

It is not uncommon to see religious students arguing with non-religious students as result of the lack of sensitivity surrounding religion. Some religious students believe that although many claim that BHSEC is a tolerant community, this tolerance does not necessarily extend towards religion—but it should.

This is especially important because many people base their entire lives on the moral codes of their religions. One religious student said, “Even though you are not religious, you should not shut down other peoples beliefs. There should be more openness. Some students are rude toward the religious ideas of others, because some students base their lives on that. [However,] BHSEC helps [religious people] become more open minded, and make arguments and explain their opinions.”

I could not agree more. As a religious person myself, I have been verbally attacked by hordes of BHSEC students numerous times. These attacks only make my skin thicker, and enable me to come up with arguments for my religious beliefs. At the same time, such disrespect and lack of sensitivity has been pushing me more away from liberal values and toward conservative ones.

There are many non-religious and semi-religious students who are sensitive and respectful of the religious beliefs of others. One such student said, “I feel like religion at BHSEC is a very important topic. Religion is accepted at BHSEC, so no one is crazy about shutting down other people’s ideas. Religion helps people be individuals and unique, and religion helps people express what they believe in. Religion helps unite people and communities and ideas. It does not divide people, but it creates a subsection of people that religious people can relate with because they share a similar religion.”

Although I completely agree with the latter part of what my peer said, I disagree somewhat with what this person said initially. Again, I have been often been verbally assaulted by many students over my religious beliefs. At the same time, there are people who are very tolerant and respectful of the religious beliefs of others and how they wish to express them. Students should “not shut down other people’s opinion’s beliefs,” but be more open minded about the values of others and express their opinions while avoiding language that they would not like others to use if they were talking about values that were very important to them. All in all, I hope that students at BHSEC continue to think critically while being sensitive and respectful of the religious beliefs of others.

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