Third place (tie) — High school essay contest: Jeremiah Brown

Jeremiah Brown

Religious obstruction of progress

FFRF awarded Jeremiah $2,500.

By Jeremiah Brown 

Religious institutions have hindered the spread of new ideas and knowledge for centuries. Catholicism wielded near absolutist power in Europe until the Enlightenment, crushing dissent, from science to schisms. Other religious institutions similarly fought against any ideas considered blasphemous. At its best, religion can motivate people to assist their community. However, at its worst, it can be used as justification to divide, subjugate or exterminate those who are deemed heretical. 

Science often directly conflicts with religious ideas, especially in the United States, where religion is used to attack vulnerable groups. Christianity was used to justify slavery. Mormonism, a Christian religious institution, used the concept of the “Mark of Cain” to discriminate against Black Americans. Similarly, religion has been and is still used to attack and control LGBTQ+ peoples, regardless of scientific inquiry into the normalcy of homosexuality. 

In addition, following the publication of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species and the theory of evolution, religion attacked and condemned the monumental advance in biological understanding. Religion in American policy has obstructed the natural progression of scientific understanding for the past century and longer. At every turn, religion has attacked advances in sociology, neuroscience and biology, due to conflicts with its teachings. 

Recently, regardless of public health guidelines and mandates, religious groups have attacked scientists and outright denied the existence of the global pandemic. From New York to Arizona, communities have had to face outbreaks from religious extremists who actively put others at risk. 

In the United States, there has been a growing trend among religious groups increasingly distrusting the medical community. The country has seen this trend weaponized by those who seek to spread disinformation. QAnon is a prime example. QAnon’s merger of religious and political ideals was used to oppose health measures and attack the U.S. Capitol in the name of a figure associated with God. 

Increasingly, religion is being used to dispose of facts and scientific data and to manipulate people and this is exacerbating the issues caused by the pandemic. 

Religious faith requires no backing for belief, no data, no evidence, no proof — which allows bad actors to hijack religion to manipulate people in the modern age, just as they have in the past. Scientific inquiry allows information to be gathered and disseminated to the masses for the betterment of society. Science exists to push humanity to a brighter tomorrow, while religious institutions have time and again sought to hold us in the dark. 

Jeremiah, 18, is from Evans, Ga., and attends the Rochester Institute of Technology. “I’m a military kid and have lived from Rhode Island and Maryland to Washington and Virginia,” Jeremiah writes. “While in high school I maintained a 3.7 GPA, took 10 AP courses, and lettered in both lacrosse and football. I was a member of Beta, NHS, FLAIR, Spanish Honor Society, Space Club, Model United Nations, Principal’s Advisory Council, and was vice president of Young Democrats.”