If you are listening to Christian radio or Fox News lately, you may think religious persecution is running rampant in America right now. But is it really?
If you think you are being persecuted for your religious beliefs, ask yourselves these questions: Is anyone trying to stop you from praying, reading your holy book, or worshipping in your own home? In your place of worship? Is anyone trying to stop you from imposing your religious views on others publicly? If you can honestly answer yes to the first two, then perhaps, you are experiencing persecution. However, the latter is not persecution. It is you trying to persecute others, and is therefore, not protected under religious freedoms. Or at least it shouldn’t be.
Here are some examples of actual religious persecution.
- Jesus Christ’s crucifixion based on his religious claims and those of his followers.
- John the Baptist’s beheading based on his belief in Christ as the messiah.
- Constantine’s destruction of pagan and Roman temples and his intolerance of all non-Christian religious practices.
- Mary Tudor’s slaughter of Protestants who refused to convert to Catholicism, which earned her the name of Bloody Mary.
- Hitler’s attempt to exterminate the Jews and the slaughter of 6 million Jews under his leadership.
- Joseph Stalin, who was against all religion and demanded atheism be embraced by all. He killed thousands of people because of their religions, destroyed temples, and outlawed Protestantism, Catholicism, Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, and more.
- Charlemagne persecuted the Saxons, insisting they convert to Christianity.
- Martin Luther was killed for his reformation of the Catholic church, but was also, himself, a controversial figure for the anti-Semitic sentiment in his writings.
- On-going persecution of Christians in China, which includes, beatings, imprisonment, confiscation of religious materials, and executions.
- In Africa, there is much Christian vs. Muslim persecution erupting in violence and death. For example, the recent Islamic terrorist attack at a Kenyan college, killing 147 Christians.
- In the Middle East, Christians are persecuted by Muslims, Muslim groups persecute each other, and then there are the devastating effects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which many believe is rooted in differences in religious ideology.
- In America, today religious persecution may exist on a very small scale. Individuals are discriminated against in work environments or at school, but it is not widespread. Probably the most persecuted group in America today would be the Amish, who are frequently attacked when venturing out of their communities. But even these are isolated events.
Many people believe that Muslims are the most hated or persecuted religious group in America today because of the association of terrorism with Islam in the Middle East and because of the attack on September 11, 2001. But while the sentiment of many Americans may be anti-Muslim, actual persecution is also limited to isolated events.
Merely being discriminated against or even hated does not constitute religious persecution. Religious discrimination is against the law and people on the receiving end of discrimination in America have the opportunity for fair legal redress, which in itself, shows that this is probably not at the level of persecution.
Individual people will always discriminate and infringe on the rights of others, but when this is sanctioned by the state, no protections are in place, and no justice is available, then it can truly be called persecution. One might question if isolated incidents of hate crimes constitute actual persecution in the academic sense or just criminal activity by a prejudiced few, which will not go unpunished. If so, no one in America can claim to be persecuted on the basis of religion.
If your idea of religious persecution is that you are not able to infringe on the rights of others to practice your religion, then you are mistaken, and frankly, that’s just too bad.
In the news recently, there have been a variety of groups suing the government and petitioning for laws to protect religious freedom, when in fact, religious freedom already exists and is protected by the Constitution. If refusing to serve someone based on his religion appeals to you, then opening this can of worms is likely to backfire on you. Already, we’ve seen cases of signs appearing refusing to serve Christians on the grounds of “deeply-held religious beliefs.” All one has to do to see the inherent discrimination in these types of protections for businesses is to replace “Christians” or “homosexuals” with “blacks” or “Asians,” and we immediately become incensed with righteous indignation, saying, “They can’t do that! That’s illegal!” What’s the difference? Do you really believe that your religious freedom entitles you to discriminate against others in a public place by refusing to offer goods and services? No one is trying to prevent you from exercising your religious freedoms. But you cannot, in America, run a business open to the public, and then discriminate against people based on your religion or theirs. That sounds a lot like Nazi Germany. Saying you can’t do that with your business, does not mean, you are being persecuted.
Try being an atheist in a country where atheists are prevented from holding public office in seven states (West). Can you even imagine our country electing an openly atheist president, or imagine the ridicule a sitting president would incur if he refused to say a prayer at the Prayer Breakfast or at the National Day of Prayer? Yet, the very religious folk who are so vocal about religious freedom have no issue with religious tests for public office, using religion to campaign, or to freely criticize the lack of religion in candidates and politicians.
Unfortunately, the inability to “put the shoe on the other foot” is at the root of this ridiculous controversy over religious freedom. Instead of demanding your right to deny others rights, try to imagine what you would feel if that happened to you. I believe that most people do not want to hurt others or treat them unfairly, but when our sense of justice and our fear of losing our own rights cause us to treat others unfairly or unkindly, then we need to take a step back and ask ourselves what we are really trying to accomplish. Maybe by remembering what real persecution looks like, we can more realistically look at our own fears. Fear seems to be at the heart of this issue, and decisions made on the basis of fear are rarely rational or effective, and are often divisive. Really, can’t we all just get along?—Christina Knowles
Originally posted in 2015
West, Ellis M. (2006). “Religious Tests of Office-Holding”. In Finkelman, Paul. Encyclopedia of American Civil Liberties. CRC Press. pp. 1314–5. ISBN 978-0-415-94342-0.