As the Church prays its way through the final days of the Fortnight for Freedom 2017 campaign, a new study is confirming that hostility toward religion isn’t all in our minds – it really has gotten worse in the last few years – but there are some bright signs on the horizon.
The new report, entitled “Hostility to Religion: The Growing Threat to Religious Liberty in America,” found a 76 percent increase in religious hostility within the last few years.
“When the first edition of this report was released in July 2014, religious freedom violations across the United States were already significantly high,” writes the Family Research Council, which published the report. “Since that date, the number of incidents has only increased. The first edition—spanning over a decade—contained 90 incidents. Yet 69 new incidents have been added in the short time since the last report. That is a 76 percent increase in just under three years.”
This translates into a 114 percent surge in religious liberty violations.
For example, in the section documenting religious expression in the public square, there were 21 incidents cited between the years 2000-2013, and 15 from 2014-2017. These recent violations include forcing an Indiana school district to stop staging a Living Nativity play, forcing a community in Michigan to remove a cross and a plague featuring a Bible verse, threatening a restaurant with legal action for offering a “prayer discount” to customers, and pressuring policemen to remove “In God We Trust” stickers from their vehicles.
More than 30 incidents were reported in the last three years on the issue of sexuality, with most of them having to do with sexual orientation and support for traditional marriage. These include a bank that forced its employees to state their position on same-sex marriage. The report includes numerous instances of bakers and photographers who were penalized for refusing to lend their services to same-sex unions. Christian colleges have also experienced backlash for requesting an exemption from discrimination laws. There was also an instance where firefighters were forced to ride in a Gay Pride parade.
In addition to these violations, there has also been an alarming spike in suppression of religious viewpoints on sexuality using nondiscrimination laws or policies. These cases range from forcing Christian pharmacists to carry and dispense contraceptives and abortifacients to issuing the onerous HHS birth control mandate which attempted to force religious employers to provide insurance coverage for services that violate their religious beliefs.
Referred to as “coerced nondiscrimination,” the study cited this as a matter of serious concern because it forces people of faith to violate their consciences, their convictions, and their deeply held religious beliefs in order to avoid running afoul of the law.
“It consequently affects their ability to freely exercise their religion. For instance, when Christian wedding photographers who believe same-sex marriage is wrong are forced to provide their creative services at a same-sex wedding, under threat of fines imposed by SOGI [sexual orientation/gender identity] laws, free speech and religious exercise are clearly and seriously imperiled.”
While every section of the report shows an increase in the suppression of religious freedom, these last two areas involve the most alarming increases.
“This trend was apparent in the first edition, and following the Supreme Court ’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges and other developments, is even clearer now,” the report states. “These numbers are also conservative estimates; some incidents contain more than one person or entity affected by the religious freedom violation, yet we only counted it as one incident. Thus, the actual figures are likely much higher.”
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, called the 66-page report “sad, but not surprising” given the Obama administrations overt antagonism toward biblical Christianity.
However, on the other hand, it underscores the legitimacy of the actions taken by President Donald Trump to put an end to policies in federal agencies that “fan the flames of this religious intolerance.”
The appointment of Justice Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court is another bright spot. Gorsuch is a known defender of religious liberty and recently sided with a 7-2 majority in the landmark Trinity Lutheran Church vs. Comer case which ruled that the state can’t discriminate against religious institutions or exclude them from neutral benefit programs simply because they are religious.
The Supreme Court has also agreed to take the case of a Christian baker who refused to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding. With a conservative majority now on the bench, a ruling in favor of the baker could put a damper on the rampaging discrimination against Christian business owners by gay activists who have damaged or destroyed so many establishments in recent years.
Perkins is hoping the report will be a wake-up call to Americans of all faiths to the slow erosion of one of the country’s most cherished liberties – freedom of religion.
“In a society like ours, we must be the guardians of our own freedom. Anyone who desires freedom in the future must take note of what these trends tell us about our freedom right now—relative to where we have come from—in order to protect freedom going forward.”
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