Posted: 18 July 2011 Updated: whenever
This is my opinion. If you wish to communicate your opinion regarding this topic, you can contact me at cdoswell at earthlink.net - either use the email hyperlink or cut and paste after replacing _at_ with @. However, if you're not willing to have your comments posted here, along with my response, don't waste my time or yours. And don't be anonymous or use some pseudonym. I'll simply trash your email.
Many christians in this country, including some people I know personally, actually believe that their religion has come under attack and they are being persecuted here in the USA. Since, to my knowledge, no one is sending christians to be eaten by lions in public arenas or crucifying them in public executions, just what sort of persecution are they talking about? Well, for example, the Worthy Christian News reported ten years ago that
… a pattern is emerging reminiscent of Jewish persecution in post war Germany. "Isolation of, and discrimination against Christians is growing almost geometrically" says Don McAlvany in The Midnight Herald. "This is the way it started in Germany against the Jews. As they became more isolated and marginalized by the Nazi propaganda machine, as popular hatred and prejudice against the Jews increased among the German people, wholesale persecution followed. Could this be where the growing anti-Christian consensus in America is taking us?"
Tolerance of anti-Christian attitudes in the United States is escalating. ... In Madison, Wisconsin, the Freedom from Religion Foundation distributes anti-Christian pamphlets to public school children entitled, "We Can Be Good Without God." The entertainment industry and syndicated media increasingly vilify Christians as sewer rats, vultures, and simple-minded social ingrates. The FBI and the Clinton White House brand fundamentalist Christian groups as hate mongers and potential terrorists. ... All this, while Christianity itself is often a target of hate-crime violence. We remember the students at Columbine, and the United Methodist minister who was fatally beaten and burned in a remote part of Chattanooga, Tennessee, to name a few of the recent examples of interpersonal violence aimed at believers.
These absurd predictions by those wishing to encourage christian paranoia haven’t happened yet and are unlikely to happen! That the Columbine shootings were an attack on christianity is equally absurd. But this sort of fear-mongering nonsense persists to this day, of course. Fox News (a "news" organization that is little more than a propaganda machine for christian nationalists) reports the following with a clear implication that this is a form of persecution of christians:
A federal judge has ordered a Texas school district to prohibit public prayer at a high school graduation ceremony. Chief U.S. District Judge Fred Biery’s order against the Medina Valley Independent School District also forbids students from using specific religious words including "prayer" and "amen." The ruling was in response to a lawsuit filed by Christa and Danny Schultz. Their son is among those scheduled to participate in Saturday’s graduation ceremony. The judge declared that the Schultz family and their son would "suffer irreparable harm" if anyone prayed at the ceremony. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said the school district is in the process of appealing the ruling, and his office has agreed to file a brief in their support. "Part of this goes to the very heart of the unraveling of moral values in this country," Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott told Fox News Radio, saying the judge wanted to turn school administrators into "speech police. I’ve never seen such a restriction on speech issued by a court or the government," Abbott told Fox News Radio. "It seems like a trampling of the First Amendment rather than protecting the First Amendment."
Your right to free speech doesn't include forcing your religion into our public schools, Mr. Abbott!! Christians are saying that the principles embodied in the Bill of Rights in the U.S. Constitution forbidding the establishment of a state religion in the U.S. (the so-called "Establishment Clause") constitutes an attack on them! They see this as persecution!! Here they are trying their absolute best to install christianity as the state-supported religion here in the U.S., attempting to install what would amount to a theocracy, and they insist that anything slowing or preventing that is persecution? The christian extremists now are in the process of rewriting U.S. history to support their patently false notion that the "founding fathers" really intended the U.S. to be a christian nation.
The real test of the legitimacy of christian claims to being persecuted in their efforts to install christianity as the state religion can be seen if we imagine what would happen if some other religion tried to do the same thing. Suppose the followers of islam, judaism, or buddism tried to insert their icons and their religious practices into public institutions across the US. In that situation, you can be assured that these very same christians would arise in a fury of self-righteous indignation over the attempt to force that other religion on them! As my friend, R.J. Evans says, "The hypocrisy reveals the lies!" Secular efforts to prevent the establishment of christianity as the state religion aren’t persecution at all. The very idea of that is so ludicrous it hardly bears consideration, except -- right-wing religious ideologues and even some christian "moderates" do see this as true persecution!
Churches already have tax-exempt status, which if limited to christian churches would be a violation of the Establishment Clause. That it effectively discriminates against atheists is of little concern to anyone since atheists are but a tiny minority of apparently evil people (see below). However, the christian nationalists now are actively campaigning for prayer in public schools, the teaching of creationism in public schools as a competing theory with that of evolutionary biology, government financial aid (via vouchers) to private religious schools, installation of christian icons and practices in public institutions. Tax-exemption apparently isn't enough for them. They want the full weight of the political system to be behind their religion. Extremists calling for this sort of intrusion of religion into politics aren't hard to find:
I could go on, but there's no need. These advocates for religion in politics are both extremists and by now thoroughly embedded in mainstream America. Their very public campaigns for this are a sign of the very real threat of a theocracy in this country. They consistently campaign on the notion that any denial of christian intrusion into politics is persecution of the believers. This plays well even with some moderate christians, including friends of mine, who apparently love to see themselves as a persecuted minority, despite the reality that they're an arrogant and exclusionary majority.
Now let’s talk about real persecution. Here are just a few examples from Freethoughtpedia (red text used to highlight certain key phrases).
What we're seeing here is an unabashed, blatant, and thoroughly undisguised effort to exclude atheists from participation in the political process in many states around the U.S. In my book, that is legislated discrimination on religious grounds. According to Wikipedia:
A 2006 study by researchers at the University of Minnesota involving a poll of 2,000 households in the United States found atheists to be the most distrusted of minorities, more so than Muslims, recent immigrants, gays and lesbians, and other groups. Many of the respondents associated atheism with immorality, including criminal behaviour, extreme materialism, and elitism.
Atheists represent less than 2 percent of the U.S. population, although this number may be larger than reported owing to the reluctance of many practicing atheists or agnostics to declare their lack of belief in a god, owing to a real concern for discrimination. In many situations, admitting your atheism is tantamount to asking to be fired, or excluded. Atheists even endure personal attacks and recriminations from their own family members! Hence, many are hunkering down and trying not to be noticed.
Recently, during the 4th of July celebrations of 2011, efforts were made to have banners flown carrying the message that atheists too can be patriotic. This had a decidedly bad outcome in some places. About.com reports:
You may have heard about how American Atheists tried to fly signs over all 50 states on the 4th of July with messages about the existence and patriotism of atheists. They were unable to achieve this goal because in so many states the available pilots (this is a specialized job) were too bigoted to fly any signs having anything to do with atheism and atheists.
Justin Jaye, owner of Fly Signs Aerial Advertising, made comments specifically for this article. Jaye explained that in his 20 years of thousands and thousands of aerial banner jobs ranging from "Impeach Cheney" banners to anti Wal-Mart banners, he has never faced resistance like he faced with the atheistic banners.
Jaye says that he "respects each and every pilot's decision to fly or not fly a certain message" and that he would support the flying of any message that was not defamatory or vulgar. Many pilots, he explained, share this sentiment, but many "turned around and said that they wouldn't fly atheist banners." Jaye notes, "If a banner reading Jesus is patriotic was proposed, everyone probably would have flown it," but this was not the case for the atheist banners.
Jaye explained that many pilots feared job termination, death, angering city officials that would lead to being fired, and general controversy that would be associated with flying atheistic banners. One pilot, Jaye noted, believed that he would go to Hell for flying a plane with an atheistic banner. Another pilot in Montana believed that people would shoot him if he were to fly an atheistic banner. Jaye notes, "If one FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] official takes offense, a pilot can lose his/her job and not be able to provide for his/her family."
So these pilots feared recriminations or objected on what amounts to religious grounds. While I don’t believe this is an illegal restriction on free speech (because the pilots are free to accept or decline the task as they see fit), it definitely functions to limit free speech by atheists. This is the consequence of the national tendency (by the majority of citizens who are religious) to see atheists and atheism as evil – more evil than almost anyone or anything else. This tendency is what the banners were trying to change, but for the most part, religious America just doesn’t want any atheist viewpoint to be heard.
This sort of extremist reaction to militant atheism is also reflected in the defacing of billboards paid for by atheists to express an atheist message. If atheists were to vandalize billboards with christian messages, imagine the furor that would be created! Likely the law enforcement agencies would spare no expense in their scramble to track down and prosecute the perpetrators, whereas they seem powerless to seek out those christians responsible for similar vandalism of atheist billboard postings. The hypocrisy reveals the lies!
Is it any wonder that many atheists are becoming more "militant" -- that is, are vigorously active and aggressive, especially in support of their cause? If you're part of a persecuted minority, you have two basic choices:
Many of us admire the militancy of the civil rights movement in the 1960s, as black people in the U.S. worked actively to be given the rights guaranteed to them on paper (the Constitution and the Bill of Rights) but which were abrogated in practice in many places around the nation, including (but not limited to) the "South". Some of those militants became extremists, and in some cases were hunted down and brutally suppressed (killed or imprisoned). The most effective tactic was that of the militants who advocated the tactics of Ghandi (nonviolent disobedience of discriminatory laws). They took and stayed on the moral high ground through the whole process, and this eventually resulted in a great deal of support from the "liberal" citizens in the U.S., leading eventually to civil rights legislation that eliminated institutionalised segregation.
Atheists could learn a lesson from this, I believe. I think militancy is warranted, but never extremism (which inevitably includes violence, as demonstrated so clearly by the terrorist acts of a christian fundamentalist in Norway in July 2011).