Students Embrace Religious Diversity

Sofia Colorado, Arts and Entertainment Editor

Texas is considered part of the “Bible Belt” of America, which means that the majority of the population occupying the southeastern and central area of the United States is regular church attendees. Vandegrift High School is no exception. Because the majority of students are Christian, it is easy to overlook other faiths.

Students practice religions such as Judaism, Hinduism, Islam, Mormonism and Atheism. Although these students are the minority, it is important to celebrate the religious diversity at our school by being knowledgeable of their background which leads to greater tolerance and acceptance towards others.

“Sometimes I feel forgotten about,” sophomore Sydney Cohen said. “Everyone is Christian and thinks like, ‘Oh you’re Jewish so you celebrate Hanukah’ or whatever, but it is so much more than what meets the eye.”

Cohen clears up misconceptions about the most important holiday being Hanukah, as she explains the Jewish High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. These holidays last ten days known as the Ten Days of Repentance, where Cohen enjoys going to Synagogue to celebrate the Jewish New Year, and the Day of Atonement. Another important ceremony in Judaism, is Bat Mitzvah which commemorates the coming of age in children.

When I had my Bat Mitzvah, I had to study the Torah for months,” Cohen said. “I gave a speech about my Torah portion, and had to carry it around. It gave me pride because you become an adult in the Jewish community.”

While Jewish people honor the High Holidays, Hindus take part in a celebration called Diwali, otherwise known as the “festival of lights.” Junior Piyushi Bishnoi is looking forward to the festival   this fall. During this festival, the lighting of clay lamps are lit to represent the triumph of good over evil. This happy celebration shines a light on the true meaning of Hinduism that Bishnoi loves.

“The fact that we have some really strong morals that prevent the things that are looked down upon in society from happening is something that I really respect,” Bishnoi said. “We have a really interesting religion that most people don’t know about.”

Bishnoi explains that her religion promotes healthy lifestyle choices similar to Christianity, such as no alcohol or profanities. Also, Hinduism encourages giving back to others less fortunate, and being a good citizen.

Like Bishnoi and Cohen, senior Mikaela Pope actively participates in organizations that promote her religion. More specifically, she is a member of the Muslim Woman Organization of Austin which hosts many events that are often broadcasted on live television. Recently, she took part in a Muslim Peace March in order to educate people on the subject of Muslim faith so that more Americans will be tolerant and accepting. This march was so publicized that Pope’s aunt, president of the organization was interviewed by political commentator Glenn Beck.

“It’s really similar to any other religion, it’s something that gives you hope and gets you through the rough times,” Pope said. “Because of the stereotypes of Muslim people, I don’t normally feel comfortable talking about religion to others. This is a very conservative school, and everyone thinks that we will blow things up.”

In contrast to the other students, junior, Ethan Fredrick rejects religion entirely. He is part of a more recently attributed group of people that do not believe in the existence of deities, known as Atheists. The rejection of a divine power, originated with his parents. As he grew up, his belief became immutable as he questioned the scientific reason behind religion.

“It’s a matter of logic, it doesn’t make sense to me that there is some being that would be able to create everything out of nothing,” Fredrick said. “This is my choice, and sometimes people don’t look at you quite the same if you’re not Christian.”

Mormonism is a branch of Christianity, however, it encompasses different practices and rituals that are relevant to their faith.  Freshman Madison Smith embraces the differences in religions that our school offers by teaching others what she believes in, and erasing the misconceptions.

“Everyone thinks that we are polygamists, but I only have one mom and dad. We read the Bible, but we also believe in the Book of Mormon, which is another testament of Jesus Christ. We also get married in Temple, which is a pretty white building that is more sacred than the church,” Smith said. “A lot of people go on missions when they are older too. Like my older brother who is now 20, left for Brazil when he was 19 to preach our religion and teach others about our faith… ”

Smith believes that others can learn from this religion because they are good role models that uphold high standards of morality. One of her favorite pars about her religion is when she participates in summer camps where everyone is so strong in their faith, and believes in the same thing.

Encompassing religions other than Christianity, Vandegrift High School has given its students an opportunity to learn about the different faiths around them in hopes that nobody feels forgotten.

“[Being surrounded my many faiths] gives the school a feeling of cultural diversity, and it brings the school to a more eclectic point of view,” Bisnoi said. “It brings people to know more about the world and opens people’s minds up to more religions, and it allows everyone to be recognized within the school instead of sticking to one specific religion.”