Religious Bullying: How to Get Help and Cope
By Jessica Hicks
Your religion and religious community might be a safe haven for you and a source of hope and strength, which is why it can be confusing and painful when it’s the reason others are treating you badly.
Being bullied because of your religion can be traumatic. Your religion might be a positive presence in your life and a big part of who you are. But when you’re ridiculed or discriminated against because of it, you might start to experience feelings of shame, isolation, or anger. All your feelings are valid, and it’s important to know that what’s happening is not your fault.
There is overlap between religious bullying and hate crimes. Both should be reported, but who you report to will differ depending on the nature of the bullying. This article will explain the difference.
Help is available to you if you’re dealing with religious bullying or a hate crime. Read on to find out what religious bullying can look like, when it might be a hate crime, and how to report it and seek support.
What Is Religious Bullying?
Religious, or faith-based, bullying is when you’re treated negatively based on your actual or perceived religion with the intent of inflicting emotional, mental, or physical harm. Religious bullying is a form of identity-based bullying, where someone is targeted because of their race, gender, sexual orientation, culture, religion, disability, or another part of who they are.
Religious-based bullying can happen online or in person, occur at school or at work, come from peers or strangers, and take different forms, including:
- Teasing, jokes, rumors, insensitive remarks, slurs, name-calling, or other forms of verbal harassment related to:
- Religious practices, such as praying or fasting.
- Clothing or symbols on your clothing. Students have reported being bullied for wearing articles of clothing such as head scarves (hijabs) worn by some Muslim students, skullcaps (yarmulkes) that some Jewish students wear, and turbans (patka or dastaar) worn by some Sikh students.
- Your name.
- Being ignored or excluded from social events, gatherings, or work because of your religion.
- Being physically harmed or assaulted, including having a religious article of clothing forcibly removed.
What Are the Effects of Religious Bullying?
Religious bullying can lead to:
- Fear of expressing your opinions and beliefs
- Difficulty paying attention
- Having negative feelings about yourself
- Feeling depressed
- Difficulty sleeping or having nightmares
- Feeling isolated
- Having trouble in school or avoiding class
- Substance misuse
Feeling threatened for who you are and what you believe can also lead to physical and emotional symptoms. These symptoms are your body’s way of trying to protect you from threats in your environment.
Some things you might experience:
- Feeling agitated, on guard, or scared
- Being easily startled
- Having muscle tension
- Experiencing difficulty focusing
- Keeping to yourself or avoiding going out in public
How to Report and Cope With Religious Bullying
Talk to a Trusted Adult
It might feel scary to talk about it, but the first step to protecting yourself is to talk to an adult you trust. Think about who you’d feel most comfortable confiding in: your parent or caregiver, a teacher, a coach, a relative, or someone else you feel safe opening up to.
If you’re reaching out to a teacher or school staff member, it doesn’t matter what subject they teach or what their exact job is—what matters is that they listen.
Check out these tips for talking to your caregivers when you’re having a hard time; most of them apply to talking to any adult.
You could share what’s been happening and ask for help managing the situation or reporting it. Some states or areas have strict bullying laws or regulations, so if you choose to speak to a school staff member, they may be required to report it. Before sharing, you might say something like: “I’m being bullied and want to talk to you about it. If I share, what will happen?”
If you’re facing religious bullying, keeping records of what’s going on can be helpful so you have detailed information if you decide to report it. It’s helpful to write down what occurred, who was involved, and when and where it happened, in a journal or on a notes app on your phone.
You might also take photos of any texts, social media posts, or other images or written evidence that you’re being bullied. Some social media apps, like Snapchat, let users know if a screenshot was taken, so try to use another device to take a photo or video so you can do it privately.
Contact School Administrators
You deserve to feel safe and be free of harassment at school. With the help of a trusted adult, you may want to reach out to a school administrator to inform them of the bullying and file a report. You might reach out to a guidance counselor or a vice/associate principal to start the process.
Some things to share:
- Who the person or group is that is bullying you
- Detailed information about what happened, including evidence such as texts, posts, etc.
- What might help you feel safer, such as moving lockers or changing your class schedule
- Anyone who was a witness to the bullying
- “Hotspots”—places where you were bullied more frequently or aggressively (including online)
You’ll likely fill out some paperwork detailing what’s happened, and you can ask for a copy of it. Many school districts then open an investigation to understand and address what’s happened. As the investigation goes on, you’ll want to keep any messages or information your school provides.
If you haven’t received any updates about the investigation after two weeks, you can reach out in writing to the person you reported the bullying to.
Use Muting, Blocking, and Reporting Features on Social Media
If you’re being bullied online, you have the option to mute, block, and/or report the individual who’s harming you to the social media platform. These features are here to protect you. In most cases, when you mute someone on social media, the individual isn’t notified, so you don’t need to worry about them finding out.
Get Mental Health Support
Being bullied because of your religion can cause emotional trauma. That’s why it’s important to get help by:
- Reaching out to your school guidance counselor or a therapist who you can talk to about what you’ve experienced
- Visiting a community mental health center, which may offer group therapy for individuals who have gone through a similar experience
- Leaning on your support network of friends, family members, or mentors within your religious community
Learn more about getting affordable mental health care and how to take care of yourself when you’re waiting for mental health care.
Validate Your Experience
It’s normal to have all different kinds of thoughts, feelings, and reactions, and it’s important to take time to sit with—and make space for—everything you’ve gone through. Validate your experience by:
- Journaling about what happened and what your religion means to you
- Talking with someone who can empathize with your circumstances and story
- Creating art—whether that’s music, poetry, a drawing, or whatever creative outlet speaks to you—that represents and gives recognition to what you went through
How to Help a Friend Experiencing Religious Bullying
If a friend is experiencing religious bullying, you can help them by:
- Listening to them without judgment. You don’t need to have answers or advice—listening is a powerful way to offer support.
- Talking with them about how they want to handle the situation, including reaching out to an adult who can provide support or help report what happened.
- Offering to go with them to the counseling office or when they file a report.
Learn more about helping your friends when they’re struggling.
The Difference Between Religious Bullying and Hate Crimes
Identity-based bullying, including religious bullying, and hate crimes are similar because they are both rooted in bias—someone is being targeted because of their actual or perceived race, skin color, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, gender or gender identity, disability, or other part of who they are.
The difference between religious bullying and a hate crime comes down to whether what the perpetrator is doing could be considered a crime. If someone harms you physically based on your religion or makes a meaningful threat to your life or safety, that could be considered a hate crime. Most speech—insensitive jokes, name-calling, and slurs—are traumatic, bullying behavior but would not be considered a crime.
If you think you’ve been the victim of a hate crime, it’s critical to report it to law enforcement. Find out more about what hate crimes are and how to report them by visiting the Victim Connect Resource Center.