5th place: Grad student essay contest — George Jean-Babets

George Jean-Babets

FFRF awarded George $1,500.

By George Jean-Babets

In training to become a social worker, much of my education has surrounded ideas of diversity, equity, inclusion and cultural competence. In my personal experience, the dogma of religious extremism does not align with these principles. 

The National Association of Social Workers’ Code of Ethics has various guiding principles, including social justice, dignity and worth of the person, importance of human relationships, and integrity. Historically, religious extremist groups have infringed upon these guiding principles by spreading enmity and voicing their censure of marginalized groups. 

Religious extremism, as evidenced by radical agendas, tends to procure violence as seen in the assault on the U.S. Capitol. Extremism can be seen at the group level and individual level. Simplistic representations are often problematic and consequential in that they determine the perception of extremist groups. 

For example, following the Sept. 11 attacks, almost 70 percent of the U.S. security policies targeted Arabs and Muslims, since they were seen to be affiliated with the devotees of the extremist group al-Qaeda. It is crucial to be cognizant of bias born from stereotypes of what constitutes a “religious extremist.” It is important to be self-reflective by recognizing implicit biases and buried assumptions we all hold. 

In the essay, “Violent and Non-Violent Extremism: Two Sides of the Same Coin?,” Alex P. Schmid proposes that either for individuals or groups, the five warning signs of religious extremism include belief in absolute truth, endorsement of blind obedience, a quest to establish utopia, belief that the end justifies the means, and a declaration of holy war. 

One of the most dangerous instances of non-violent religious extremism involves public officials’ use of religion-based doctrine as conviction for legislation and public policy. Some officials see fit to govern a woman’s bodily autonomy by promoting increasingly restrictive laws that limit one’s ability to find reasonable access to abortion services. 

Regarding the public sphere, I value the First Amendment’s decree that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” While I am no legal scholar, I believe this should mean that no member of the legislature should put forth policy based on religious edict. I respect this first section of the First Amendment because it also respects the free practice of religion and denounces religious persecution. 

Religious fundamentalist movements such as the Christian right and interest groups like the Family Research Council represent contemporary examples of religious extremism in the United States. Some sects of the Christian right advocate for the removal of sex education in schools, view the LGBTQ+ community as immoral, and believe in strict binary gender roles for men and women. 

The mission of the Family Research Council is “to advance faith, family and freedom in public policy and the culture from a biblical worldview.” This religion-based, biblical worldview holds political influence through its lobbying efforts. The Family Research Council opposes and lobbies against embryonic stem-cell research, abortion, pornography, divorce and LGBTQ+ rights (such as anti-discrimination laws, same-sex marriage and LGBTQ+ adoption). 

While I firmly believe in the freedom to practice one’s religious beliefs, contemporary religious nationalist groups represent an extreme platform for many ideas that are regressive and discriminatory. Religious nationalist groups denounce inclusion and multiculturalism in favor of an ideology more aligned with white supremacy. Religious extremism and much of its agenda remain a clear and present threat to the well-being and prosperity of people who call the United States of America home in the 21st century. 

George, 29, is pursuing a master’s degree in social work at Boston College. “I am passionate about mental health and have an internship placement at the Department of Mental Health,” George writes. “I have bipolar disorder and have struggled through the extremes of mania and depression.”