Every day we hear figures on the Religious Right declaring that conservative Christians in America are being persecuted by a government that has embraced, in the words of Samuel Rodriguez, “secular totalitarianism.”
This narrative has helped to feed the opposition to gay rights and reproductive rights, and has even been used to advocate against the rights of religious minorities. And it continues even as Christians and members of other minority faiths face real persecution throughout the world.
The Right has managed to gain traction with this narrative by providing a never-ending supply of martyrdom myths. These stories of children banned from praying and of Christmas celebrations curtailed are carried to a wide audience by people like Fox News’ Todd Starnes — and are often quickly proved to be completely apocryphal.
In a new report, "The Persecution Complex: The Religious Right’s Deceptive Rallying Cry," we look at the machine that produces those myths and how they are then used to influence public policy:
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 isfired 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.
Peter and I also discussed the report in a conference call with PFAW members a couple of weeks ago. You can listen to that here: