A new report surveys the the ever growing hostility toward religious belief in America.
The U.S. remains a hospitable home for religious believers. Whatever their problems, American Christians are not persecuted, in contrast to many people of faiths overseas, who often are beaten, imprisoned, and murdered for their faith. Nevertheless, a new report from the Liberty Institute catalogs rising hostility toward religious believers in recent years.
In its report, “The Survey of Religious Hostility in America,” the Institute raises an important warning: “Our first freedom is facing a relentless onslaught from well-funded and aggressive groups and individuals who are using the courts, Congress, and the vast federal bureaucracy to suppress and limit religious freedom. This radicalized minority is driven by an anti-religious ideology that is turning the First Amendment upside down.”
This may overstate the danger, since the First Amendment remains a legal bulwark and most Americans remain friendly to religion. However, those antagonistic to religion increasingly are turning to government. Many supported the Obama administration mandate forcing faith organizations to cover contraception. Similar attitudes may animate the shift in administration rhetoric from freedom of religion to freedom of worship. This change, warned the organization, “threatens to make true religious liberty vulnerable, conditional, and limited” by suggesting that only “worship within the four walls of your home, church, or synagogue, but when you enter the public square the message is, ‘leave your religion at home.’”
The Institute’s list is long and impressive, though mixed. Hostility obviously exists. However, not all hostility warrants legal or political action. Just as people of faith have a right to worship, those without faith have a right not to do so, and even to act out their disagreements toward believers. Tolerance toward all would encourage social peace, but cannot be forced through coercion.
Indeed, Jesus warned his followers that they would face opposition: “In this world you will have trouble.” (John 16:33) They should not seek state power to minimize private hostility but instead should respond to criticism with charity. Believers should, however, fight back strongly when the state acts against them.
Many cases described by the Institute involve restrictions on believers practicing their faith. For instance, Ohio State prisoners were forced to sue to win accommodation with their religious faith. Two men successfully sued to evangelize without a permit at a festival in Fairborn, Michigan. A counselor at the federal Centers for Disease Control was fired for refusing to engage in relationship counseling for gay couples. A Christian group went to court to overturn Dearborn, Michigan’s ban on distributing religious tracts near an Arab festival. The same city sought to force ministers to sign away their constitutional rights in return for receiving permission to preach in public areas of the city.
Mount Sinai Hospital threatened to fire a nurse for refusing to participate in a late-term abortion. Apartment managers won a settlement after being fired for displaying religious artwork in the office. Vermont unsuccessfully sought to bar residents from creating vanity license plates with Bible verses. An evangelist successfully sued the U.S. Park Service when it attempted to stop him from passing out literature. The city of Ithaca, New York threatened to arrest a minister for preaching loudly in public. Jacksonville, Florida restricted an evangelist who sought to preach on a public sidewalk. The city of San Antonio arrested two men for evangelizing on public sidewalks. Hewlett-Packard fired an employee who hung anti-homosexual scriptures in his cubicle in response to corporate posters depicting a gay employee.
Federal courts banned a Catholic mass as part of “A Touch of Italy” festival in the village of Crestwood, Illinois. The Washington State Board of Pharmacy issued a rule, overturned in court, requiring pharmacists to dispense abortifacients. Wisconsin fined a pharmacist for refusing to provide oral contraceptives. A minister went to federal court to win the right to preach at a public festival in Duluth, Minnesota. Chicago arrested people for proselytizing at a Catholic festival only to lose in federal court. A public transportation system banned Christian advertising, and also lost in court.
Settled were cases involving a transportation agency which fired a bus driver for refusing to drive a woman to Planned Parenthood, a Christian professor denied the position of Observatory Director by the University of Kentucky because of his faith, and two workers fired by the University of Texas (Arlington) for privately praying for a co-worker after hours. The so-called New Mexico Human Rights Commission fined a Christian-owned photography company for refusing to handle a same-sex marriage.
The Department of the Interior threatened to review all of the outgoing emails of an employee who requested not to receive departmental emails on the month-long celebration of “gay and lesbian pride.” Jacksonville, Florida police arrested a man for evangelizing on public property. The City of Cumming, Georgia arrested a man for distributing religious tracts on public sidewalk without a permit. A woman filed suit against a Texas school district in order to hand out religious materials outside a high school. The University of Wisconsin ordered a resident assistant not to lead a Bible study in his dorm.
In Batch Springs, Texas, the senior citizens’ center told visitors to stop praying before meals and singing religious songs. An agnostic family sued the city of San Diego for leasing parkland to the Boy Scouts. Illinois pharmacists successfully overturned a state rule requiring them to fill contraception prescriptions. A mall in Westfield, California banned a man from sharing the Gospel. The Gay and Lesbian Services Organization sued a Christian-owned business for refusing to make a gay pride t-shirt. The Freedom from Religion Foundation filed a legal complaint against a florist who refused to deliver flowers to the organization after it sued to remove a school prayer banner.
A Jew went to court to force the Colorado Department of Corrections to accommodate his keeping of the Sabbath. Muslim police officers sued to win the right to grow beards. A Chabad rabbi sued the army to allow him to keep his beard.
Lambda Legal sued a Hawaiian Bed and Breakfast for refusing to rent to a Lesbian couple. Cisco fired an employee who expressed his opposition to same-sex marriage outside of work. Cargill Food fired an employee for similar reasons. A local Chamber of Commerce fired an employee for wearing a Ten Commandments lapel pin. Berkeley County, South Carolina banned religious signs. Kentucky and Tennessee rejected religious vanity license plates.
The Federal Reserve forced a private bank to eliminate a Christmas message from its website, though later reversed course under pressure. The Janesville, Wisconsin police department barred an officer from posting an announcement of a prayer group, but then relented under legal pressure. A Boys & Girls Club barred an eight-year-old from singing Kum Ba Yah in a talent show because of the words “Oh, Lord.” A city recreation facility in Northglenn, Colorado banned a swim coach for sharing his faith.
In many of these cases, the government was out of line attempting to limit private religious activities. In others private companies were, or should have been, within their legal rights in ordering employees to keep their religious beliefs off-premises. However, in both cases hostility toward religion was evident. A live and let live attitude — which should equally extend to non-believers, of course — would be a far better policy in most of these cases.
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H/T to National Review Online