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Prejudice and Discrimination. Prejudice is a cultural attitude that rests on negative stereotypes about individuals or groups because of their cultural, religious, racial, or ethnic background. Discrimination is the active denial of desired goals from a category of persons. A category can be based on sex, ethnicity, nationality, religion, language, or class. More recently, disadvantaged groups now also include those based on gender, age, and physical disabilities.

Prejudice and discrimination are deeply imbedded at both the individual and societal levels. Attempts to eradicate prejudice and discrimination must thus deal with prevailing beliefs or ideologies, and social structure.

Prejudice and Discrimination in a Historical Context. As far as historical records show, no society or nation has been immune to prejudice and discrimination, either as victim or victimizer. Contemporary forms of prejudice and discrimination date back to when European colonizers penetrated and transformed previously isolated societies and peoples. The more extreme forms of discriminatory practices include genocide, slavery, legislated discrimination (such as Apartheid), discriminatory immigration laws, and disenfranchisement. Less extreme forms of prejudice and discrimination, but nevertheless pervasive and oppressive, include social exclusion at the institutional level (such as in schools and hospitals), and the more subtle forms practiced by the media. Some groups appear to suffer from more persistent forms of discrimination, such as Jews (as in anti-Semitism) and the Roma (a.k.a. Gypsies), regardless of time and place.

As to the root cause of prejudice and discrimination there appears to be no clear acceptance of any theory of causation. Scholars do agree, however, that prejudice and discrimination are not universals as something humans are inherently born with. There is ample evidence that prejudice and discrimination are social constructions. If indeed prejudice and discrimination are inherent in the human condition, we would not be able to account for intermarriage and assimilation among highly differentiated human groups. There is, moreover, considerable evidence that prejudice is absent in young children (e.g. Allport, 1954).

External Bahá'í Relationships. The First Universal Race Congress in London in 1911, provided a formal opportunity for the presentation of Bahá'ís ideas on the subject of racial unity and fellowship. Unable to come himself, `Abdu'l-Bahá sent a message to the Congress and emphasized the need to appreciate the beauty of humankind's diversity (Racial Unity: 7). Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, the North American Bahá'í community organized Racial Amity conferences, in conjunction with other groups which strove to eliminate prejudice and discrimination. Bahá'ís in other countries have followed this lead, with varying degrees of effort and intensity. As a consequence, Bahá'ís have focused the public's attention on the plight of subjugated groups and on the need to provide remedy through the elimination of prejudice and discrimination.

Bahá'ís are encouraged to apply both courage and wisdom in the eradication of prejudice and discrimination in their relationships to society at large. Although intermarriage is encouraged, it is a "highly delicate and vital question," in which the people involved "should forget their former and traditional prejudices, whether religious, racial or social, and commune together on a common basis of equality" (Dawn of a New Civilization: 198).

The following is an article that discusses the religious projudice and persecutions in other countries around the world, including the continuation of the persecution of the Bahá'ís in Iran. Please keep in mind that this article is copyrighted by the publishers of the (Pioneer Press) and all rights are reserved by that company.


Posted on Fri, Jan. 02, 2004

OTHER VOICES: Work for religious freedom

Religious repression continues to be a disheartening problem in many countries. The U.S. State Department's recently released annual review on the subject contains lots of bad, if predictable, news.

It says, for instance, that religious freedom doesn't even exist in Saudi Arabia or North Korea; in Burma, the government considers such freedom a threat to "national unity"; China continues to restrict religious practices in many ways; Iran represses followers of the Bahai faith; non-Muslims, especially Christians, suffer terribly in Sudan; all faiths are restricted in Turkmenistan.

This dishonor roll goes on and on.

Religious freedom is a foundational human right that requires vigilance to protect. So it's reassuring that the State Department regularly reviews the status of religious freedom around the globe and issues reports.

Here and there in the 2003 report, the department found a little good news, too: In Kazakhstan, the government has started promoting interfaith dialogue; Laos has made "some significant improvements" in how it handles religious issues, and in Indonesia, despite many problems, the government "generally respected religious freedom."

A 1998 law requires the State Department to put particularly egregious violators of religious freedom on a list of "Countries of Particular Concern." The most recent such list includes Burma, China, Iran, Iraq (before Saddam Hussein's fall), North Korea and Sudan.

The 2003 State Department report makes it clear that at least Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan and Vietnam should be added to that list. Once a country is on the list, the law requires President Bush to take some action to oppose the behavior cited. This can range from private diplomatic pressure to sanctions.

Americans cherish their own religious freedom and believe all people should be free to worship (or not worship) as they choose. America's government needs to be an even stronger promoter of religious liberty.


©Copyright (Pioneer Press) 2004, All rights reserved.

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