Fox News correspondent Todd Starnes likes to report on culture war issues and frequently highlights examples of supposed anti-Christian persecution. He plucks the examples from Religious Right media outlets, which then turn around and point to Starnes’ Fox News stories for validation.
Fox example, one recent Starnes story alleged that a New York school was forcing girls to kiss each other as part of an anti-bullying seminar. But the ‘forced lesbianism’ story was baseless [PDF], and the school superintendent had to write to Starnes to urge him to, you know, report stories accurately [PDF].
In another instance of shoddy journalism, Starnes claimed that the military was deliberately blocking access to a Southern Baptist website as part of a “Christian cleansing” of the armed forces by the Obama administration. Well, as it turns out, the website was automatically blocked over malware issues and the Southern Baptist Convention’s own director of information systems acknowledged that there was malware on the SBC website, not any anti-Christian animus in the military, was responsible for the mishap.
So it came as no surprise to learn that a new Starnes column about the military getting ready to court martial Christians, since picked up by organizations like the Family Research Council, was also completely groundless.
Starnes contends that Obama administration officials are working with church-state separation activists to begin kicking Christians out of the military and cracking down on their religious freedom.
As Warren Throckmorton points out, the Defense Department guidelines on proselytizing and religious bias that has so enraged Starnes and others was actually put in place in 2008 during the Bush administration and the language clearly “draws a distinction between simply speaking about one’s faith and coercion.” Throckmorton also notes that Starnes twisted a statement from a Pentagon spokesman “to make it seem as though the outcome of religious proselytizing cases would be court martial.”
The Tennessean and Stars and Stripes have also debunked the story, but don’t tell Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX), who in an interview with Starnes said that Obama is trying to make Christian service members leave their faith:
“Under President Obama’s military you are no longer allowed to share your faith,” he said – noting that the policy is putting Christians in a tough position. “Do you follow President Obama or do you follow God and the teachings of Jesus?”
“That’s pretty tough when your commander in chief puts you on the horn for that dilemma,” he added.
Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) similarly told Tony Perkins on Washington Watch earlier this week called the story “yet another attack on religious liberty that we’ve seen from the Obama administration.”
Perkins: The idea that members of the military who share their faith, directly or indirectly, could be potentially court martialed, is this stunning or what?
Scalise: It’s frightening and shocking. Unfortunately it is yet another attack on religious liberty that we’ve seen from the Obama administration and it’s just been an endless assault from so many different angles. Of course it comes off the heels of the FDA approving the morning-after pill. There are just so many things that this administration is doing that go against a lot of the Christian beliefs that this country was founded upon and I think it really needs to be pushed back hard on.
While the victimhood narrative of oppressed white straight evangelicals is beloved by the Religious Right and trumpeted by Fox News, conservative activists may want to at least try to find real incidents of persecution and real journalists if they want people to ever believe them.