Religious harassment typically consists of behavior that seeks to make someone feel threatened or emotionally distressed due to his or her religious beliefs or background. This can often be connected to cultural and religious persecution or prejudice and it can take a number of different forms. Such harassment is illegal in many countries, including the US, and may be grounds for punishment when it takes place at a school, workplace, or government institution. Religion-based harassment can occur with relation to any religion, and is not limited to particular belief systems or based on the cultural popularity of a particular religion.
There are a number of different ways in which religious harassment can occur, though generally it involves actions, words, or images intended to cause a person to feel threatened or distressed due to his or her religion. This can include physical threats or violence, including bullying, as well as verbal taunts and religious slurs and depictions of offensive imagery related to another person’s religion. The nature of such offensive material can vary a great deal. These forms of harassment can often take place within a workplace, at a school, or in a government agency.
Comments or depictions of images that may be offensive to someone else’s beliefs are generally not enough to constitute religious harassment. The harassment usually must be ongoing, occurring after the harassed person makes a request for it to stop, and be intended to threaten the victim or cause the victim severe distress. There is also a distinction between religious harassment in a workplace, such as between co-workers, and displays of artwork in a gallery that may be offensive to viewers. Freedom of speech, at least in the US, does protect a person’s right to say many things, but threats of violence and language or images meant to cause emotional harm are not necessarily protected.
When religious harassment does occur, there are a number of steps that can be taken to punish those involved in such activities. Employees and students at a school, business, or government agency can be reported and may be subject to termination of employment, expulsion from school, and possible criminal penalties. Religious harassment is also not inherently connected to any particular religion or belief system. Even someone who is a member of a popular religion in his or her area can be targeted by someone else and made the victim of such harassment.