Written by: T.K. McNeil, Researcher & Author, on Social Trends and Alternative Religion
To serve and protect? People are supposed to be able to trust the justice system. It is not an exaggeration to state that the effective use of police and the courts are essential to a peaceable society of any significant size. There are, however, several inherent issues inherent in the system. Not least is the fact that police officers and judges, no matter how vigorous the vetting, are still only human and will be subject to biases, like the most of frail humanity—despite the special treatment and exceptionalism extended to them by society, including an almost total lack of accountability in cases of wrong-doing.
Racial bias in the justice system is well-known. Particularly as groups like Black Lives Matter gain in prominence. The problem has been relatively well-known since the days of the Black Panthers; there are several theories as to why this is. However, the arrest statistics speak for themselves with black suspects being arrested up to 30% more and getting longer custodial sentences, something at least partly based on the notion of Christian Nationalism, which comes down to the near-constant, arguments that America is a Christian nation. Something is feeding issues of bias directly in terms of religion. One is veering sharply in favor of Christianity. People are tending to identify most with those who are like them.
The results of such preference, generally neutral in their origins, can be potentially dangerous for those in minority groups if the person harboring said bias imbues societal power. Such as the police, very few of whom are religious experts. A fact that can lead to dangerous misunderstandings when faced with people of other faiths, mainly if the criticisms of the religion in question go against the officer’s trained response.
There are also instances of religious profiling through willful pig ignorance, such as the officers who were posting openly Islamophobic messages publicly on Facebook and faced no disciplinary action from the platform, let alone their department. The blue code of silence coming into full force to protect them.
Such religious ignorance and pro-Christian bias in policing are beginning to be recognized and addressed, at least in America. Such as the state of Vermont, which is moving toward instituting a bias-free policing policy. A high ambition to be sure, but it is encouraging that the state of Vermont is attempting.
Areas, where pro-Christian bias is still a significant issue, are prisons and the court system. Prejudice does not end in the courtroom, no matter how many times the meaningless phrase “justice is blind” repeats through the echo chamber. The problem is so old and prevalent there have been legal scholars studying the issue going back as far as 1993. Such as “The Role of Religious in Judicial Decision Making” in the Indiana Law Journal.
Sadly, it didn’t make the impact many would have hoped. There being articles as recently as 2010 pointing out the issue of religious profiling and pro-Christian bias court system. The U.S. Supreme Court has six Catholics and three Justices of the Jewish faith. A limit of view that can’t help but lend itself toward bias. Particularly for people of minority religions. Not only Islam, which is an issue but also belief systems so maligned and ignored that they are thought not to exist at all.
Such as the 2005 case on which a Wiccan’s discrimination case against Va. The federal court of appeals dismissed the county. The plaintiff, in the case, a practicing Wiccan, was excluded from leading a brief-prayer at the Board of Supervisors. At the same time, those of Judeo-Christianbackgrounds were allowed to do so, completely undercutting any arguments about the separation of Church and state, only particular churches being acceptable.
It is also not always so clear cut. In Canada, it is not technically illegal to be of a minority faith. Depending on that faith and the perception of it in society, however, you can still get in trouble. The Canadian Criminal Code has a law against “fraudulent claims” of being Wiccan. The problem is the majority of police, judges, and prosecutors don’t have the first idea about the Wiccan relation or what would constitute “legitimate” faith. As such, some people face charges for their closely held beliefs.
The prison systems aren’t much better; funding for non-Christians recently being cut down to nothing and non-Christian prisoners in both the U.S. and Canada do not have the right to wear their religious symbols. Such as the prisoner in Virginia who wasn’t allowed to wear his Thor’s Hammer, despite being an avowed member of the Asatru faith. A subset of German paganism, associated with more well know beliefs such as Norse Paganism, particularly Odinism. Among the fastest-growing religions in their native Scandinavia. The denial of the religious symbol a violation of both constitutional and statutory rights.
“American Cops Openly Engaged in Islamophobia on Facebook, With No Penalties” Carless W. & Corey M. Reveal News 6.27.2019:
“Few police officers are religion experts. That can create big problems” Dallas, K. 7.31. 2019: www.deseret.com/indepth/2019/8/1/20755777/few-police-officers-are-religion-experts-that-can-create-big-problems#pope-francis-is-greeted-by-philadelphia-police-commissioner-charles-ramsey-as-he-arrives-at-philadelphia-international-airport-in-philadelphia-saturday-sept-26-2015
“Va. Inmate Can Challenge Denial of Thor’s Hammer” Hudson, D.L. First Amendment Center 2007:
“The Role of Religious Values in Judicial Decision Making” Idleman, S.C. University of Indiana School of Law Vol 68 Issue 2 Article 3
“Wiccan Bias Suit Against Va. County Dismissed” Markon, J. Washington Post
“God’s Country in Black and Blue: How Christian Nationalism Shapes Americans’ Views about Police (Mis)treatment of Blacks” Perry S.L., Whitehead, A.L. & Davis J.T Sociology of Race and Ethnicity 8.2.2018: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/2332649218790983
“Awareness and Advocacy Towards Institution Bias-Free Policing Criteria in Vermont” Zuckerman, A. University of Vermont 2012