Survey reveals increasing hostility in US towards religion

Washington D.C., Aug 20, 2012 / 05:31 pm (CNA).- A report examining court cases from recent years has found that hostility towards religion has grown to unprecedented levels in the United States.

The newly-updated Survey of Religious Hostility in America serves as “a testament to the radical shift in our culture’s worldview” on religion, said Kelly Shackelford, president of Liberty Institute, and Tony Perkins, president of Family Research Council.

On Aug. 20, Shackelford and Perkins announced the release of the updated analysis, describing “more than 600 recent examples of religious hostility” in the U.S., most occurring in the last decade.

The survey arose out of Shackelford’s 2004 testimony before the U.S. Senate on the rise in religious hostility in the U.S. Some members of the Senate claimed that the examples given were “simply isolated incidents.” In response, the report was developed, documenting the “very real problem” that the issue poses.

The updated survey reveals that eight years later, “hostility against religious liberty has reached an all-time high,” said Perkins and Shackelford.

The report observed a “new front” of attacks against churches and religious ministries in recent years.

Five years ago, it said, it would have been “unthinkable” for the federal government to claim that it could “tell churches and synagogues which pastors and rabbis it can hire and fire.”

Yet this was the argument made by the U.S. Department of Justice in the recent Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC case, in which the federal government fought against the “ministerial exception” that allows churches to select their leaders without government interference, it said.

The Supreme Court unanimously ruled against the Justice Department and defended ministerial exception in January.

The survey also documented an “explosion” within the last decade of “cases involving local governments discriminating against churches, particularly in the local governments’ use of zoning laws and granting of permits.”

In one case, a Texas law required all seminaries to receive “state approval of their curriculum, board members, and professors.”

Furthermore, the report documented increasing attacks on religious freedom in the public sphere, pushing “the boundaries of religious hostility” to new limits.   

In one instance, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs banned funerals at national cemeteries from including religious content, even if the grieving family wanted the ceremony to include references to God.

In addition, multiple challenges have been brought against veterans’ memorials containing crosses and displays of the Ten Commandments at state courthouses and capitols.  

The survey observed the shift in attitude towards these monuments, pointing out that even a decade ago, veterans’ memorials in the shape of a cross “were widely accepted as fitting symbols of the sacrifices made by so many for this country.”

It also noted several cases challenging prayer to open legislative assemblies, despite the fact that Congress has opened with prayer since the nation’s beginning.

One case showed how senior citizens at an elderly center in Balch Springs, Texas, were told that they could not pray over their meals because “religion is banned in public buildings.” City officials told the senior citizens that praying over government-funded food violated the “separation of church and state” and might result in the meals being taken away from them.

The report also noted the “alarming frequency” of attacks on religious liberty within schools. These cases, which often involve school officials preventing parents, teachers or students from speaking about their faith, are frequently the result of “misinformation” and threats of lawsuits from “secularist organizations,” it said.  

In one case, a federal judge threatened a high school valedictorian with “incarceration” if she did not remove references to Jesus from her graduation speech. In another, a student was asked “what Easter meant to her” and told that she could not say “Jesus.”

Another instance documented a public school district in Greenville, Texas, which told a woman that she could only have an assistant principal position if she took her children out of a private Christian school.

The survey also found multiple instances of schools banning Christmas cards and gifts with religious content.

Although these cases indicate a significant increase in religious hostility in the U.S., the report’s authors said, those who stand up for religious freedom “are winning” in court.

“As dark as this survey is, there is much light,” they noted.

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