Majority believers strive to respect other beliefs

The First Amendment gives U.S. citizens the right to practice their religion without government interference and prevents the establishment of one official religion for the country.

Christians make up 70 percent of the population in the U.S., according to the Pew Research Center. In Alabama, 86 percent of the population identify as Christian.

Although Christianity is the dominant religion in the country, Christians do not need to dominate the religious conversation, said assistant professor of religion Carl Gebhardt.

“For Christianity in particular, I think the big challenge of freedom of religion is discovering within ourselves a willingness to allow other people the same elbow room that we desire for ourselves,” Gebhardt said.

Freedom of religion should mean everyone is allowed to express their beliefs about God or lack thereof, Gebhardt said.

“I don’t believe there’s a deity or deities,” said assistant professor of physics and astronomy and adviser of the Secular Student Alliance Melvin Blake. “There’s not evidence for it. I believe in concrete things that can be demonstrated and proven. That’s not to say that they shouldn’t believe. I think people should believe whatever they want.”

This right means people should be able to speak about their religion freely without being criticized, said senior Kelcey Kostelc.

“Coming from a Christian’s standpoint, I have seen so many people bash on Christianity, that are nonbelievers, because of what they have heard or seen other Christians do, causing them to think that is what it is all about,” Kostelc said. “That’s why it is our jobs, as Christians, to be bold in what we believe and help spread the word to get people closer to God.”

Christians sailed across an entire ocean to become closer to God and gain religious freedom, Gebhardt said.

But Christians did not seek this religious freedom for others in the Americas, Gebhardt said.

While Blake does not practice a religion, he said he believes others should have the right to practice theirs uninterrupted.

“People have a right to have their church, go to church, enjoy the communal aspect of that without anyone stopping them,” Blake said. “We shouldn’t be shutting down churches either. No one should be allowed to take their beliefs away from them either.”

But maybe Christians should allow others to claim their religious space, too, Gebhardt said.

“I think the first big problem Christians have in the United States is that Christians have always had first place for so long that any time we have to share the stage we feel like we’re being deprived,” he said.

However, the same is probably true for other countries where the dominant religious has to share the stage with other religions, Gebhardt said.

“(Freedom of religion) means that I am free to pray in public without question from authorities,” said senior Cole Richards. “It means I can openly carry around my Bible on campus. It means that those of other faiths can openly and freely express their beliefs and rituals without oppression.”

There are times when Richards said he does not feel comfortable showing others he is a Christian.

“I don’t understand why Christianity always seems to take the worst heat from the media,” he said. “You almost never see any other religions being bashed and mocked in the media today.”

Since moving to Alabama, Blake said he experienced ridicule from others based on his lack of belief.

One person even said his study of astronomy was “doing the work of the devil,” he said.

The campus is accepting of the alliance, said president and junior Christopher Jackson.

“We even hosts tables at First Fridays downtown, and the Christians and religious folk that come to the table are always super friendly,” he said.