War On Christianity? (UPDATED)

Fox News has claimed (more often on-air) that the U.S. government — specifically Barack Obama — has declared “War on Christianity”. While I enjoyed Jon Stewart’s sarcastic response, I wanted to fact check the original claim — as much as a nebulous claim can be fact-checked.

The op-ed I cited above lists several specific factual claims (children have been ordered to stop praying outside the Supreme Court, Obama asked a university to hide its Christian symbolism during his visit, etc.), which aren’t really the issue. I will stipulate that these several claims are true, but will argue that they do not constitute a “War on Christianity”.

First, I will take issue with the word “war”. I think anyone who’s ever served in actual military combat should take offense at any of this being called a “war”. No one is being shot, captured, tortured, etc. in this “war”. At most, it is a dialog of religious/political viewpoints. There are actual religious wars being waged around the world.

ISIL’s attempt to control parts of the ancient world is one example. Saudia Arabia (one of the U.S.’s allies) has not backed down from its 1,000-lash, 10-year sentence of blogger Raif Badawi, despite international pressure. In some countries, Christians are massacred for their faith. If you’ve been a victim of anything like that, “war” might be the appropriate term. If you’ve been jailed for being a Christian, seen your church shut down by the government, experienced police going through your home to remove your religious books, etc., then maybe you’ve been a victim of a war on Christianity.

Pope Francis’ (whose name was misspelled by CNN in the image above) election was one of the top news stories in the U.S. in 2013
(Copyright © 2013 by Wil C. Fry.)

But if you are free to worship at the church of your choosing, free to distribute literature about your faith door-to-door, free to openly carry a Bible or other obviously Christian book, and free to run for and hold public office with your faith being known, then the government is not at war with you or your faith. If every president of our country has professed to follow the same God as you, and 92 percent of Congress professes your same faith (and most of the remainder is Jewish, which is pretty close), then the country is not at war with your faith. When one church organization changes leadership and it’s one of the year’s top-rated news stories, then Christianity holds a special position in the country, not a marginalized one. If churches, Christian organizations, and other religious groups continue to be protected from taxes, purely because they are religious, then they in fact hold a privileged position, not a beleaguered one.

There are 345,000 church congregations in the U.S., according to the 2010 U.S. Religion Census, with over 150 million adherents. That’s more than ten times the number of U.S. Post Offices, thirty times the number of Starbucks locations in the U.S., and twenty-five times the number of McDonald’s restaurants in our nation. And the number of churches has been growing in past decades. This is not indicative of a movement that is regularly being battled.

Almost all religiously motivated hate crimes in the U.S. are committed against Jews, Muslims, and “other”, and almost none are committed against Christians.

One of the issues that Christians trumpet as proof that the government is at “war” with Christianity is school prayer. I know, because I was a Christian in public school — many years ago, but the issue was just as hot-button then as it is now. Like many Christians, I couldn’t see the distinction between (1) prayer in school and (2) state-sponsored prayers in schools. The Supreme Court has regularly rejected the latter, because of the First Amendment, yet never rejected the former.

Despite a few overactive local school policies, highly publicized (example), there has never been a blanket policy in our country of banning prayer or religion from schools. Opinion pieces like this, for example, are blatantly false and intentionally misleading. Prayer by students was never banned by the Supreme Court. As a song from my youth said: You can still pray in the U.S.A. (Though most of the song is a deep misunderstanding of the legal difference between banning school-sponsored prayer and student-led prayer.)

Here’s the difference, for those who can’t figure it out. The First Amendment prohibits the government from establishing a religion. It also, at the same time, ensures that the government can’t shut down your “free exercise” of your religion. The ACLU advocates for both positions, which are not mutually exclusive.

Schools and school employees can’t promote one faith over another, because that would be state-sponsored religion, which no one should want. But they can’t legally stop any student from praying, reading the Bible, or otherwise exercising their faith (as long the activities aren’t disrupting classes or causing other problems). For example, if you stood in the middle of a lecture and began audibly praying or preaching, then you’re just being a jerk; that can be stopped. But if you close your eyes during a test and pray for clarity of mind, that’s not against the rules and can never be.

Christmas yard decorations in Lynbrook, N.Y.
(click to see it larger on Flickr)
(Copyright © 2011 by Wil C. Fry.)

The “War on Christianity” is much like Fox News’ imagined War on Christmas. When 99.99% of the people in the country celebrate Christmas, when every single public school in the country closes down for the Christmas holiday, when all but the most essential government employees are paid to take the day off, and no government body in this country — ever — has tried to stop anyone’s celebration of Christmas, when every town and every city in the country decorates streets and public buildings for the holiday, then there is no war on Christmas.

In the same way, the “War on Christianity” in the U.S. is a figment of Fox News’ imagination, and I would guess that it was an intentional invention, designed to play on the fears of a certain demographic. That translates into advertising dollars. Billions of them.

Perhaps even worse, I’m convinced they’ve come to believe their own rhetoric and now see themselves as victims in the imaginary war that they’ve always been winning because no one else in this country was fighting it.

EDIT, 2015.04.02: added paragraph on number of Christian churches in the U.S., and added paragraph on hate crimes, with accompanying image.

  1. >>an intentional invention, designed to play on the fears of a certain demographic<<

    Fox News is fleecing the bottom third of America. In some ways, it's quite brilliant.

    • Wil C. Fry says:

      Yes, I should have clarified that — as a free market money-making strategy — it was a really good idea.

      (And I apologize that my last sentence was originally omitted by accident; I’ve added it above.)

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