In August, the Family Research Council and the Liberty Institute released a collaborative report entitled The Survey of Religious Hostility in America. The report alleges that religious freedom is under attack in the U.S. by a "radicalized minority ... driven by an anti-religious ideology" that allegedly threatens First Amendment freedoms. Religious freedom has come under fire, it claims, because of a "radical shift in our culture’s worldview that started with the rise of secularism following World War II and has accelerated with each passing year of the twenty-first century." It chides the Obama administration for supposedly neglecting freedom of religion in its public statements, preferring to speak of "freedom of worship" that stops at the public square.
The Survey of Religious Hostility in America lists over 600 incidents of alleged "religious attacks and hostility" in the U.S. Listed among these supposed attacks are cases related to public prayer, Ten Commandments displays on state and federal land, and religious content in public schools. Other alleged "attacks" on religious institutions included a 2007 case that revolved around an accreditation controversy for a Texas school that wanted to use "seminary" in its name. Another involved confidentiality issues involving a pastor who revealed a congregants extramarital affair to his church's congregation. Others still involved public proselytization, pamphleting, homophobia in the workplace, so-called "conscience clauses" for pharmacists and other medical professionals, and other matters.
As I skimmed over these alleged cases of persecution, I shook my head. Controversies over church-state separation and proper use of public lands do NOT constitute persecution. Looking askance at medical professionals who refuse to provide reproductive products and services does NOT constitute persecution. Calling out workplace homophobia, or warning an especially noisy preacher to lower his volume do NOT constitute persecution. My impression of the report was that persecution was being conflated with attempts to enforce church-state separation with conservative Christians.
Cries of victimhood and religious persecution are nothing new from the Religious Right. Predictably, they usually revolve around alleged oppression of Christians, to the exclusion of other faiths. Are the groups that produced this report equally up in arms about discrimination against atheists, pagans, Muslims, Buddhists, or other religious communities?
Right-wing cries of religious persecution are especially abrasive in the face of actual religious persecution worldwide. Religious Right voices who insist that they are being persecuted would do well to read the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, which outlines what actual violations of freedom of religion look like: arbitrary restrictions on or punishment for religious assembly, free speech, changes in religious beliefs, and so forth. They would do well to look at the State Department's indicators of a lack of religious freedom. Included among these indicators are discrimination against religious persons, restrictions on religious beliefs and alliances, and in especially egregious examples, torture, detention without charge, and flagrant violations of other human rights. They would do well to study actual cases of religious persecution against Christians in countries like Pakistan and Egypt.
Are Christians or other law-abiding groups being incarcerated, tortured, or killed for their beliefs in the U.S.? Are they being prevented from assembling, worshiping, or speaking freely as people of faith? Are they being prevented from or forced into changing their belief systems? Until we can genuinely answer yes to those questions, please spare us the histrionics.
To download The Survey of Religious Hostility in America, visit downloads[dot]frc[dot]org/EF/EF12H29.pdf
To read additional commentary, visit the following links.
Right Wing Watch: Raymond Raines and the Religious Right: The Myth that Will Not Die
Washington Post: Conservative Groups Release Survey on Religious Persecution