Chasing Religious Freedom


Jini Namboothiri shares her experiences as a Hindu in Olympia

Blake Williams, Journalist

January 15th, 2021 marked the 92nd anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birth. An often overlooked aspect of his movement is its religious diversity. Although Dr. King was the minister of a Baptist church, his movement and circle of friends included people of all faiths and none at all. Emulating his hero Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. King appealed to the moral values that have the power to unite people. Looking beyond creed and color and into the soul of our nation. Dr. King was a radical and his messages infuriated many white people, including many who identified with his own faith, Christianity. 

Looking at the Olympia community, how does it handle religious diversity? Hindus may be one of the world’s largest religious groups but in Olympia, they make up only a small fragment of the population. “In middle school, we learned a lot about the history of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism but what we learned about Hinduism was just outdated.” Said Jini Namboothiri, senior at OHS and Hindu. “I’ve never really experienced discrimination here, just a bit of a lack of understanding about Hinduism and India.” She added. “I used to live in Kentucky where I was one of very few non-white, non-Christian kids, it’s more diverse and tolerant here I think.” 

Sikhism is perhaps among the least understood religious groups in the United States. According to the FBI, they’re also the third most discriminated against religion in the U.S. These numbers lead the Sikh advocacy group, The Sikh Coalition to estimate that Sikhs are hundreds of times more likely to be victims of hate crimes than other Americans. “Many times people will assume we’re Hindus or Muslims, even though we’re a completely separate religion,” explains Sahej Kaur, Sikh and junior at OHS. This confusion, however, is not just some simple misunderstanding, the ignorance often leads to discrimination. “My father and brother experience racism on a regular basis due to their outward appearance. For example, just about a year ago, my father was refused service in a store…. The interaction went on for fifteen to twenty minutes before another clerk stepped in and apologized.” Tragically, according to Kaur, “this was just one instance; these situations are quite common for turbaned Sikhs.” According to CNBC, since 9/11 there have been over 175 anti-Sikh hate crimes reported in the United States. Pew Research polling estimated the U.S. Sikh population at 200,000 in 2012 based on census data.

Clearly, these stories highlight the work that has yet to be done. As America remembers the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., Americans have to focus on creating a country where no one is treated unfairly for their faith. Of course, this goes hand in hand with ending discrimination in all its forms; whether on the basis of religion or of race, sexual orientation, or gender. Fostering a society where the religious freedom enshrined in The Constitution is not a false promise but a guarantee for every American is essential, it’s a continuation of the work of this nation’s best leaders. The change starts right here in Olympia, be the change.