Religious Persecution—in America? by Christina Knowles (Republished from 2015)

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?

Snagged from Media Matters for America

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

PS Note: I republished this post on this site because of discrimination and harassment I received from publishing this on my mainstream blog, which is why this secular blog exists.

Sources:

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.

The Four Types of Trump Supporters and Their Political Motivations by Christina Knowles

Fed Up with Tribalism (Republished from September 29, 2020)

I think every American is fed up with the political chaos we are enduring in America. Never in my lifetime have I witnessed such division and contention. It’s exhausting and leaves us wondering if tribalism is so bad. Maybe it would be better to stay in our own little tribe, so we don’t have to believe that there are people who passionately believe the exact opposite of what we believe. I face this question every time a new scandal in the Trump presidency hits the news. Every time Donald Trump is caught doing or saying something illegal, immoral, or just plain stupid, I wonder how his supporters, some of whom seem like nice people otherwise, are able to so easily brush it aside and dismiss it, even excuse and defend it. There is a level of cognitive dissonance that is not easily explained by the “They’re all racists” justification. It seems like there is a daily influx of new evidence of Trump’s inadequacies in the area of basic human decency, but the support from his base does not waver, even from those who would not normally condone this behavior themselves. This led me to consider Trump supporters and their motivations, and I discovered that I could identify four different kinds of people who seem to think Trump is a good choice to run our country despite how terrible he’s doing at it and in spite of how repugnant of a person he is.

The Four Types of Trump Supporters

I believe there are at least four distinct types of Trump supporters, and this is why we scratch our heads in dismay when we find out someone we really like is a Trumper. Let me explain my theory. 

  1. The Power-Hungry Bandwagon Follower: These people attach themselves to anybody who seems to have power, popularity, and influence; an example would be Michael Cohen. They are seduced by the ability of Trump to get his way and command seemingly irrational things, openly lying and committing ethically questionable acts without losing favor or suffering consequences. They too want to have this power and think they will get it by their association with Trump. We’ve seen many of these people cast aside by Trump after they have served their purpose.
  2. Racists and Misogynists: The second type of supporters are ignorant racists who admire an old white guy who can get away with voicing openly prejudiced and misogynistic rhetoric. They seem to think he’s their ticket to stomping down anyone getting in their way of being the dominant race. They see Trump as the great white savior who will defend their privilege and give them a platform for their hate. Clearly, extremists and white supremacists like the Boogaloos, the Proud Boys, and the KKK all seem to find Trump appealing; perhaps, because he calls them “very fine people.” The scientifically illiterate and gun-toting militia wannabes often fall into this category as well. 
  3. The Conservative and/or Religious Right: The third type of Trump supporters are the conservative and/or religious right who swallow their innate disgust at his racism, at his crude remarks about women, at his clear disdain for the handicapped, at his stupidity regarding pretty much everything—in order to advance what they see as the greater good. Many of them fool themselves into believing that God chose Trump, however ungodly he is, to accomplish his work of stacking the Supreme Court with conservatives who will outlaw abortion, protect religious freedom (which is not in danger, by the way), overturn the Affordable Health Care Act, slow immigration, and ensure a minimum of gun restrictions. Several previously ethical and principled people have locked away their morals and swallowed their objections in order to ensure a generation of protections for these conservative goals. (Read Bob Woodward’s Rage for several firsthand confessions of this type of Trump follower). These supporters need to ask themselves to revisit the question, “Do the ends justify the means?”
  4. The Victim of Conservative Pundits: The fourth type of Trump follower is the heavily brainwashed Fox News viewer, or perhaps, a victim of other conservative media. These Trump supporters are always in an indignant rage about the evils of the Democratic party and are indoctrinated by a variety of conspiracy theories, such as Pizzagate, which is on par with flat earth conspiracy theories. They live in fear of losing the America they have always idealized. Many of these victims are elderly or otherwise cutoff from diverse views in the community. Because they are only getting information by heavily biased sources designed to manipulate them, they live in fear and disgust of anyone on the “radical left.” Even though they may know a few Democrats that are “good,” they believe there is a conspiracy by Democrats to destroy the foundations of American exceptionalism, and even worse. They fear riots destroying the suburbs, the abolition of the police, losing their economic viability, and their American way of life. They, in fact, seem to believe that there are no moderates or right leaning Democrats or left leaning Republicans at all. They are sheltered and have a skewed view of the other side.

Lies Trump Supporters Believe about Democrats

The average Trump supporter never hears that many Democrats own guns and only support moderate gun restrictions like background checks. They never hear that many Democrats abhor abortion and want to have as few as possible, but think that banning abortion isn’t the way to solve this problem. They never realize that many Democrats believe in capitalism and hard work and paying taxes, and getting something for their money like the Social Security and Medicare they paid into their entire lives. They don’t know that many Democrats are Christians and believe in protecting religious freedom and that they believe the best way to do that is to honor the separation of church and state. They never hear that many Democrats don’t believe in getting something for nothing. Many Democrats want humane immigration laws, they want a social safety net that lifts people up and doesn’t encourage a freeloading society, they want affordable college so that the entire country can rise economically, and so that they can all realize the American dream regardless of the circumstances of their births. They never hear that some Democrats don’t believe that these things should just be free and are perfectly willing to attach conditions, such as work requirements and/or giving back to the community that helped them. They never hear that while Democrats want a system of justice that is fair and equal to all, they still want law and order. They still want violence stopped and criminals prosecuted. 

But they won’t be hearing that on Fox News, Glen Beck, or the 700 Club. It’s not in their interests to let them see the nuances and the similarities we all share. It’s not in their interests to let them see Democrats as good Americans or even human beings. We are all guilty of our tribal associations and our preference for confirmation bias. If you want to understand how you are being manipulated, please watch The Social Dilemma on Netflix. It’s time to look beyond all that and talk to our neighbors, our family members with different views, and the people we’ve avoided because we think we know who they are. I just stereotyped four types of Trump supporters. Prove me wrong. Let me know who you really are and why you really support Trump. Let’s have a conversation, and maybe we will learn a little about who we really are beyond what we are told to believe.

The Ends Do Not Justify the Means

      Numerous political scientists and historians have identified Trump and his obvious dictatorial tendencies as an existential threat to our system of government and our very freedom. I get why some Republicans put away their objections and followed Trump through that door, but by now, you should be realizing that some doors shouldn’t be used. It’s time to get back to governing. We need a government that represents all of us, a government that knows how to compromise and work together and create unity. Democrats, Republicans, Independents, Democratic Socialists, Libertarians, and every other political group need to compromise. Living in a pluralistic society means none of us gets everything we want. We all should get something we can live with. That’s what it means to live in a country like ours—Out of many, one. We need to stop justifying bad methods of achieving our important goals. Instead, let’s talk, negotiate, and find something we can all accept, and in the process, we can accept each other, rather than accepting more and more bad behavior from our leaders.—Christina Knowles

Afterthought: If you are really interested in practical ways in which all of our political parties can work together, cooperate, compromise, and have a fair voice, please read Why We’re Polarized by Ezra Klein. The first half of the book is an explanation of how we got here, but the second half is full of intelligent ideas of how we could all have a more fair and productive relationship with those of opposing views and how our government could get back to effective governing.