I have long written about the Christian right’s obsessive desire to cast themselves as the victims of terrible persecution and their willingness to invent instances of it when there aren’t any real ones. People for the American Way has now issued a comprehensive report on that tendency.
The tales of horror keep pouring in: Two middle school girls are forced into a lesbian kiss as part of an anti-bullying program; an Air Force sergeant is fired because he opposes same-sex marriage; a high school track team is disqualified from a meet after an athlete thanks God for the team’s victory; a Veterans Affairs hospital bans Christmas cards with religious messages; a man fixing the lights in a Christmas tree falls victim to a wave of War-on-Christmas violence; an elementary school student is punished for praying over his school lunch; a little boy is forced to take a psychological evaluation after drawing a picture of Jesus.
None of these stories is true. But each has become a stock tale for Religious Right broadcasters, activists, and in some cases elected officials. These myths – which are becoming ever more pervasive in the right-wing media – serve to bolster a larger story, that of a majority religious group in American society becoming a persecuted minority, driven underground in its own country.This narrative has become an important rallying cry for a movement that has found itself on the losing side of many of the so-called “culture wars.” By reframing political losses as religious oppression, the Right has attempted to build a justification for turning back advances in gay rights, reproductive rights and religious liberty for minority faiths.
The religious persecution narrative is nothing new – it has long been at the core of the Right’s reaction to secular government and religious pluralism – but it has taken off in recent years in reaction to advances in gay rights and reproductive freedom, and to an increasingly secular and pluralistic society.
The frantic warnings, fueled by individual persecution myths, range from the insistence that conservative Christians are losing their right to free speech to the claim that the U.S. is on the verge of instituting unconstitutional hate speech laws to dire predictions that religious faith itself might soon be criminalized.
It shouldn’t surprise us that the adherents of a religion that is based upon an act of martyrdom feels the need to pose as martyrs themselves. But let’s also recognize that most of these claims continue to be circulated even when shown to be false because they are effective for fundraising purposes. Fear is the primary reason people support the organizations that push these false claims.