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What war on Christians?
By Cathy Young | April 3, 2006
LAST WEEK, a conference in Washington, D.C., featuring prominent
social conservatives including former House majority leader
Tom DeLay (R-Texas), examined the "War on Christians" not
in Afghanistan where a man has narrowly escaped a death sentence
for converting from Islam to Christianity or in communist
dictatorships where preaching the gospel can land you in
prison, but here in the United States.
Once, conservatives used to deplore the left's cult of victimhood
and ridicule the obsession with real or imagined slights
toward women, minorities, and other historically oppressed
groups. Now, the right is embracing a victimhood cult obsessed
with slights toward a group that makes up 85 percent of the
According to a Washington Post report, one conference speaker,
Navy chaplain Lieutenant Gordon James Klingenschmitt, compared
himself to Abdur Rahman, the Afghan convert. Showing slides
of himself and Rahman, Klingenschmitt inquired, "What do
these two Christians have in common?" and answered: "Perhaps
we are persecuted." His persecution consisted of being disciplined
by a commander for saying sectarian prayers at a sailor's
DeLay, ousted as House majority leader after being indicted
for money laundering and conspiracy, was touted as another
victim of religious bigotry, targeted for being outspoken
about his faith, and his legal and political woes were compared
to a crucifixion. (Isn't that offensive to Christians?) One
is reminded of race-obsessed zealots who see a racist conspiracy
in every prosecution of a prominent African-American, from
O.J. Simpson to a corrupt politician.
There is a nugget of truth in some complaints of anti-Christian
bias. Many people in the academic and journalistic elites
do turn up their noses at anything that smacks of faith.
Some activists, courts, and public officials have misconstrued
the prohibition on state establishment of religion as banning
any mention of religion in the public square, from a tiny
church with a cross on a city seal to a reference to God
in a high school graduation speech. The "War on Christians" conference
featured such an incident: An artist's three paintings for
a Black History Month art show at the City Hall of Deltona,
Florida, were rejected because they included a man in an "I
love Jesus" cap and a minister with a Bible. (The ban was
reversed under threat of a lawsuit.)
Such bizarre secularist excesses should be condemned. But
the complainers go much further. They cry persecution when
religious conservatives are denied the ability to impose
their beliefs on everyone for instance, to ban abortion or
gay unions. In fact, much of the hostility they encounter
is directed at this political agenda, not at religion as
such: People who bash the religious right seldom object when
faith is invoked to protest war, poverty, or racism. This
is a double standard, to be sure, but it's just as hypocritical
for religious conservatives to suggest that Christians who
don't subscribe to their brand of values aren't "real" Christians.
Thus, at last week's conference, the Rev. Tom Crouse of Holland,
Mass., lamented that his idea of holding a "Mr. Heterosexual" contest
to "proclaim the truth that God created us all heterosexual" encountered
widespread disapproval and found no support even from "Bible-believing
churches" because "it wasn't loving." Apparently, Christian
churches that accept gay men and women are part of an anti-Christian
Attempts to portray Christians as a beleaguered minority
are particularly ludicrous since, outside a few elite enclaves,
prejudice against the nonreligious remains widely accepted
in America. Half of Americans agree that belief in God is
necessary to having good moral values, and more than two-thirds
say they would not even consider voting for a nonbeliever
for political office. Georgia state legislator Ron Foster
ruffled no feathers a few years ago when he noted, in defense
of posting of the Ten Commandments in government buildings,
that judges or public officials who don't believe in God
are "more likely to be corrupt."
This soft bigotry has consequences, and not just for godless
politicians. In the May issue of New York University Law
Review, UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh documents discrimination
against nonreligious parents in child custody disputes, based
on the assumption that raising your children in a religious
faith makes you a better parent.
To be sure, there are atheists who are militantly hostile
to all religion, and reinforce negative stereotypes of nonbelievers.
But there are also believers who give the faithful a bad
name like the whiners and zealots who wring their hands about
a mythical "war on Christians."