WASHINGTON – Hostility toward religious expression “has reached an all-time high” in the United States, according to a new report.
“The Survey of Religious Hostility in America” shows a rising tide of attacks on religious liberty in the public square and in schools as well as against churches and ministries, Liberty Institute (LI) and Family Research Council (FRC) said in the 140-page report. The organizations released the document Aug. 17 and held an Aug. 20 news conference at Tampa, Fla., during the Republican National Convention’s platform committee meeting in that city.
The report, which is an update of a 2004 survey by LI, documents more than 600 instances of hostility toward religion – hostility it says is dramatically growing in both frequency and type. Most have taken place in the last 10 years. Religious liberty advocates have prevailed in legal challenges in some of the incidents, not in others.
“America today would be unrecognizable to our Founders,” said Kelly Shackelford, LI president, and Tony Perkins, FRC president, in the introduction to the survey. “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.”
They pointed to the Obama administration’s common use of the term “freedom of worship” instead of “freedom of religion” as part of the problem.
“This radical departure is one that threatens to make true religious liberty vulnerable, conditional, and limited,” Shackelford and Perkins said. “As some have said, it is a freedom ‘only with four walls.’ That is, you are free to 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 Obama administration’s advocacy in an important case decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in January likely is one of the more criticized of the incidents of hostility documented in the survey. The administration contended there is no “ministerial exception” that safeguards the rights of churches to hire and remove leaders without government regulation. The high court unanimously disagreed, saying such government involvement would infringe on both the First Amendment’s protection of religious free exercise and its ban on government establishment of religion. The ruling came in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Another Obama administration policy cited in the report is its abortion-contraceptive mandate, which requires all health insurance plans to cover contraceptives – even ones that can cause abortions – and has a religious exemption critics find woefully inadequate.
Among other instances of hostility cited in the report:
– The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs at one point prohibited references to God in funerals at national cemeteries, a policy invalidated by a federal court.
– A Texas city barred citizens at a public senior adult center from praying before meals, singing Christian songs or listening to religious messages.
– Public school officials in Texas banned students from bringing gifts for classmates that referred to Jesus or contained other religious messages, actions that elicited censure by federal courts.
– A Texas city outlawed a Christian ministry to former prisoners from operating within its jurisdiction, an action rejected by the state’s Supreme Court.
– A federal appeals court ruled that prayers before local government meetings violate the establishment clause.
The report calls for advocacy on behalf of religious freedom.
“As dark as this survey is, there is much light,” the report says. “The secularist agenda only advances when those who love liberty are apathetic.”
Liberty Institute developed the 2004 report after Shackelford and others testified to a U.S. Senate committee about hostility toward religion. Senators asked LI to compile more information after critics charged the incidents were islated.
The report may be accessed online at http://www.religioushostility.org/.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)