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  • Writer's pictureJulia Hass

Spoiler Alert: Religious Liberty Was Dead The Entire Time

Anyone who's on Twitter has probably encountered the account Dog Rates. It has over 9 million followers and most of the tweets look like this:

Dog Rates, like most successful social media entities, has merch. Also like most social media entities, every year they put out "holiday" merch, and by "holiday" I mean "Christmas".

I don't remember how many years ago - like five, maybe - I was a fan of Dog Rates. I followed them on every platform. I'd gone to a talk done by the creator, Matt, at MIT, I had stayed after and chatted with him about a lot of different things, and while I didn't think we were in any way friends, I felt like we at least understood each other and understood that each other was coming from a good place. So when Matt and his team released their holiday merch and all of it was red and green with reindeers and lit up pine trees with little stars on top, I replied to them saying something along the lines of "hey, love this stuff! Next year, could you expand it so your fans who don't celebrate Christmas have something to buy?"

What followed was 48 hours of some of the most intense abuse I've ever received online. Hundreds upon hundreds of comments from everyone including the graphic designer telling me to shut up, that I was ungrateful, that it was just dog merchandise, and that shouldn't I be content that on a red and green sweater it said "Happy Pawlidays"? Why was I being so difficult? Many of these tweets were liked by Matt himself, which only led to more criticism, harsher criticism, some really ugly and abusive criticism that was never once called out, all in the hopes that Matt would see and like their piling on me too.

Needless to say, I don't follow Dog Rates any more.

I wish this was an isolated incident. I wish I could tell you I've never had friendships ruined or parties made awkward the second someone brought up Israel, a country I've never been to and have no interest in or connection with but somehow have to have a PR line prepared on at all times. I wish I could tell you I've never had issues taking the High Holidays off, or that when I do that they don't count against my vacation days while everyone else gets Christmas and Easter off as a matter of course. I've never had a job where I didn't experience antisemitism, either in ways that were explicit and intentionally cruel or just plain culturally ignorant. In my time working at libraries, which are supposedly neutral public institutions, I've by far experienced the least intentionally cruel antisemitism but by far the most flat-out obliviousness disguised as neutral policy. The line in libraries is that you can't display or promote or have programs on or hang artwork having to do with anything religious, but you can (and are highly encouraged to) display and promote things that celebrate cultural diversity. You can put up a Chinese New Year and St. Patrick's Day display, but nothing for Passover or Ramadan, and Diwali is a tossup depending on who you ask. You can have AAPI Heritage Month, Black History Month, Hispanic Heritage Month, and Pride month displays, but nothing for Jewish History Month.

This isn't just a library problem, because it wasn't any better in the public schools I went to, where I was lucky enough to get an impressively diverse education. In school, I learned about slavery and the Civil Rights era, about the Trail of Tears and Chinese Exclusion Act, Ellis Island and Angel Island, advanced civilizations in pre-colonial Africa and Central and South America and China and Japan, and mythology from all around the world. I'm a history nerd who took AP American and European History for fun, and I know more about the history both before and after coming to America of almost every other minority group besides the one I actually belong to. The only time Judaism or Jewish history ever came up in my education was briefly in our world religions unit in sixth grade, and whenever we talked or read about the Holocaust. And even this tiny, paltry bit of information I was given is still more than I got on Islam, Hinduism, and Sikhism combined.

I also don't bring this up because I think my teachers, or coworkers, or Matt, or anyone else believes about themselves that they're exclusionary to religions other than Christianity. I think when atheists get mad when I point out that they're not atheists, they're just cultural Christians who don't believe in God, their anger is sincere because not only has no one ever asked them to confront their cultural and religious privilege, but they genuinely weren't aware that kind of privilege was a thing. I think when people say things to me like "I hate all religions, they're so confining and dogmatic" or say that I don't "seem religious" because I'm "so progressive", that comes from a place of being genuinely hurt by the Christian culture they're a part of even as they benefit from it.

I instead bring this up because I've seen a lot of well-intentioned reactions to the recent Supreme Court ruling on prayer in schools that are acting as though this is a new low for the Supreme Court, a new dark place in American life that we've never gone before. And I'm here to tell you that while I appreciate it, it's not new. It's been going on for a very, very long time. Here, for example, is the late Justice Scalia questioning why Jewish WWII Veterans did not want to be buried in a state cemetery under a cross:

Now I'm not exactly one to extend sympathy or retroactively ascribe best intentions to Antonin Scalia, but in this case I've heard so many people - well-intentioned, well-educated, otherwise highly inclusive of all forms of diversity people - be bewildered in exactly the same way as Scalia was. Doesn't everyone know that all religions are anti-science? Doesn't everyone know that all religions hate women and gay people and stuff like abortion and equal rights? What could possibly be religious and exclusionary about putting up a tree with some lights in December? What's the problem with covering everything in bunnies and pastels in April? Isn't have a cross on a grave and saying "rest in peace/power" something everyone does? What's wrong with a little nondenominational prayer between buddies at the 50 yard line? Those are just things we do in our culture, things we've always done in our culture. They're normal, everyone loves that Twitter that rates dogs as 13/10, and any objections to these normal, everyday signs of cultural privilege makes you annoying and is the reason no one likes you or included you in the cultural hegemony in the first place.

I'm sincerely, deeply, and profoundly uninterested in hearing anyone who isn't a member of a minority religion have any opinions about this ruling. I don't want to hear a single bit of hand-wringing about the end of the establishment clause. There's no side of the ideological aisle who have actually followed the establishment clause, no culturally Christian Americans who aren't guilty of using the idea of "separation of church and state" as a cudgel, allowing the creep of a majority religion when it suited them and then calling for separation only when it didn't. We didn't live in a secular country before this ruling and then get propelled backwards because of it. We've never lived in a secular country, and what's more, we shouldn't be trying to. The American founders wrote passionately about their vision of what religious freedom and secular governance meant, and it's one of the few things the founders ever wrote that's genuinely beautiful, hopeful, and more modern and inclusive than what we actually practice today. Their vision is not of an America where no one practices religion, speaks on religion, or publicly holds religious conviction. Their vision is an America where one conviction is not held above any other, where one religion's beliefs are not codified into law in violation of another's (like in the case of abortion, which is going to take me longer to write about but I'm getting to). Their vision is one that no one in the cultural majority is following unless maybe they have a Jewish friend or something who's yelled at them enough that they kind of sort of get it.

We have an endemic problem of people who have power and/or a cultural majority being allowed by society to do whatever they want and ignore the rules while we insist minorities follow those same rules at all times so they don't make the majority uncomfortable or have to change anything about their own behavior. That paradigm when it comes to religion has always existed, for decades and centuries before this latest Supreme Court ruling. So if the ruling makes you mad, maybe you should focus on smaller versions of the exact religiously exclusionary behavior the coach displayed that you're probably perpetrating every day. Because the problem isn't just the coach, it's also you, and all the things religious minorities have been telling you to fix for years and you've been ignoring: it's your non-inclusive holiday parties, your unequal religious days off policies, your book displays and choices for required readings somehow including everyone but people of different religions, your curriculums shying away from certain subjects or refusing to acknowledge them altogether, your failure to offer food options that everyone on religious diets can eat, your failure to know when people of certain religions can't eat certain things or eat at all, your closing organizations and clubs because people of the same religion meeting in public schools is "inherently political".

Fix those things first. We can talk about praying in football later.

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