High School Sophomores Answer Question "How Would You Feel If Your Religious Freedom Was Taken Away?"
Since March, I have been working with a group of high school sophomores in a Shakespeare class, as part of my student teaching experience at a Christian school in Washington State. In addition to studying Shakespeare's life and the many sonnets he wrote, we have of course been reading several of his plays, including The Merchant of Venice. One of the more fascinating parts of this particular play is in one of the final scenes, where Shylock, the Jewish money-lender and villain of the play, is forced to convert to Christianity after his murderous intentions are foiled in a Venetian court of law. Shylock must also surrender the majority of his estate, forfeit his claim to the debt he is owed, and watch his daughter leave the Jewish faith and marry a Christian man whom he despises. Considering that The Merchant of Venice is usually categorized as a comedy, it is one of the most tragic ends for a character in any of Shakespeare's plays, and the treatment of Shylock in the play has led to a great literary debate over the years regarding anti-Semitism in Shakespearean literature.
As their final assignment for the play, I had students respond to the question, "How would you feel if your religious freedom was taken away?" The responses varied, in both length and reaction. Nearly all of the teenagers in the class are self-described Christians, but their approach toward religion varies from conservative evangelical to tolerant progressives to near-agnostic. Their reactions to a potential scenario in which they were not allowed to practice religion freely ranged from the pragmatic to conformist to vigilant resistance.
— Martin Surridge, Associate Editor – ReligiousLiberty.TV
"I can't even imagine what it would be like to lose my freedom of religion, because I rely on it so much. Since God gave me life and everything, if I couldn't worship him and thank him for what he has done then I don't know what I would do." – Jake
"I would be very mad. Everyone has a right to religion. You can't take it away from them -that would be messed up. It would be like someone coming up to me and saying, "Hey, there is no God, so don't believe that there is." I would tell them that I will believe in God, even if there isn't one. It's kind of like that, its just wrong to say to someone. If I was having my religion taken away I would have a back up plan, and maybe study my religion [in secret]." – Nat
"If my freedom of religion was to be taken away I would be sad and scared. I don't know if I would be strong enough to stick up for my beliefs if they were to be taken away. I would like to think that I would be able to stick up for them, but I don't know if I could." – Kristi
"I would feel really bad because I would feel like I couldn't worship God the way I thought was best or even at all. I don't think even if you force people to convert that they truly would in there heart. But If I was forced to I wouldn't. I would take what ever punishment even death for my faith. Jesus gave up his life for me and it would be the least I could do in repayment. I would stand up for God and I know I would be rewarded in heaven." – Jamie
"I think that if I was not allowed to choose my religion I would be scared, because if I got caught then there might be severe consequences. There would be no hope or reason to even have religion." – Dustin
"I think that if I was not allowed to choose my religion that there would be no hope or reason to even have religion. There would be three possible things that I might do. The first thing I might do is practice my religion in hiding. The second is to fight it but that might be dangerous. The third thing might be to conform." – Daniel
"If my right to religion was taken away I wouldn't feel a purpose anymore. Without my religion I would feel undefined, like a part of me was missing. I would feel like there was no point to life; because if I don't have a Savior I have nothing to look forward to. Basically without my religion I wouldn't have a sense of right and wrong. My religion is what holds my life together." – Amber
"I would feel ripped of my life line. If it became illegal for me to worship God then I would have a hard time worshipping Him without telling people I do. I want to be able to be joyful in what God gives me. I would feel sad that I would have to hide my worship to even worship him a little. I feel like I have been forced to do something I don't want to do. I would feel like I would have to get away from every one in order to worship." – Caleb
"If my rights to freedom of religion were taken away I wouldn't have any hope or reason for living. What I believe is what gives me courage to face each day and keep going. If that was taken away I would have nothing and no one to rely on, no support, I would have no purpose. I would be constantly angry and have no reason to serve and worship God if how I chose to do it wasn't allowed." – Lindy
"I think that if my right to freedom of religion was taken away, it would be like cutting off my air supply. I'd feel a mix of emotions, everything from hopelessness to despair. But, even with my religion gone, I still have God by my side. I know that that will never change. So, even though I'd feel cheated, hurt, upset, and despondent, I think that I'd end up being okay because no matter what happens, I can still have a relationship with the one person that will never leave my side." – Danae
"If my freedom was taken away I would definitely have to look at what they mean by it being taken away. But I think that if my freedom to choose what I believe, what church to be and what church to attend [was prohibited] I would be very offended and mad that my freedom was taken away. I feel very strongly about my religion because it is a part of me, a part of my family, and a part of my heritage. I was born into the church, raised in the church and have grown to be a part of the church. If it ever was taken away, I think I would still practice my beliefs though people would try and stop me." – Greg
"If my religious freedom were taken away, I would feel as if someone had taken part of my identity away. I have been a Christian all of my life, and so has my family. I would be very sad and depressed, and I would probably covertly still worship God. If someone forced me to give it up, it would be like forcing me to give up a part of myself. I can't very easily change who I am." – Alicia
"If my right to freedom of religion was taken away I would feel awful! I would feel like I'd been stripped of my very core. A person's religion pretty much makes up who they are. So if the right to choose what you believe was taken away, you'd have to change the way you acted. That would be tremendously hard to deal with. I would feel like there was no point in going on if I couldn't choose to practice what I believed. It seems unfair that Shylock would have to change what he believed simply because he made a mistake. It's bad enough to have your possessions taken away, but religion too? That's a really hard blow." – McKenzie
If someone made me change my religion I would be really confused about why they would. I think it would be weird. I probably would not agree, but act just as the other people in the situation and make excuses. That would make it look just what they want to see. People can't change your mind. I would be really ticked. I wouldn't find it to be pleasant to do the same things that the other religion would do." – Lex