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Lack of religious knowledge can lead to discrimination

If you face religious discrimination or harassment at work, why do you think it happens? In many cases, it is because of two factors:

  • A lack of exposure to a certain religion
  • A mistaken assumption about that religion

People then discriminate against those who follow the religion based on what they think they know about it, even when those things are not true. It's hard for people to deal with things they're not familiar with, and they often act out against them because those things -- and their own lack of knowledge -- make them feel uncomfortable.

Answering religious questions

To see just how much this issue plays into religious discrimination, let's take a look at a Pew Research Center study about the amount of religious knowledge that the average American adult holds.

The Pew Research Center often produces surveys as a way to find what opinions people hold, asking them what they think about various social issues and the like. However, for this study, they changed tactics. Instead of asking how people felt about a religion, they put together a list of 32 questions. These were fact-based religious questions, portrayed in a multiple-choice format.

When asked basic questions concerning Christianity or the Bible, many Americans could answer them. However, when they turned to other religions, they had almost no knowledge and could hardly answer questions at all. On average, an adult in America could only answer 14 of the 32 questions on the list. That was less than half.

What this shows is that there's a big gap in American knowledge when it comes to other religions. They may have opinions about these religions, but they don't actually know very much about them at all. Again, that's an average -- there are outliers and people who have much more knowledge, but most people do not.

Facing discrimination

Unfortunately, those who discriminate on the basis of religion do not stop to ask themselves how much they really know about the religion. They often just fall back on myths and stereotypes. They may hold opinions that are based entirely on misinformation or on someone else's opinion, with no reliance on facts at all. That's a very dangerous combination because it means they may feel justified in their discrimination.

Of course, religious discrimination is illegal in the American workplace. Freedom of religion is supposed to be one of the founding principles of the United States. Those who face this type of discrimination must know what legal steps they can take.

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