Tag Archives: Christian privilege

Persecuted? Puh-leese

Imagine you and three friends rent a house together. You all pay your shares of the rent, maintenance, utilities and food costs. One of your roommates is vegan, and insists that no food can be purchased or brought into the house that does not meet strict vegan requirements.

If you protest, saying that you are happy to keep your preferred foods separate, but that as an equal contributor to the household, you have a right to eat in accordance with your own dietary preferences, he whines that you are persecuting him.

Most of us would say that the roommate is being an unreasonable bully. Yet his argument is no different from that of the “Christians” who demand laws that privilege their beliefs while ignoring the rights of those whose beliefs differ.

Hemant Mehta over at The Friendly Atheist has a perfect example.

The Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) has a simple rule when it comes to reciting Christian prayers over the loudspeakers before football games: Don’t do it. It’s a fair policy considering it echoes what the U.S. Supreme Court said more than 16 years ago.

Last year, two Christian schools made it to the championship game, which would be played in a government-owned arena, the Citrus Bowl. The coach of one of the teams asked to say a prayer over the arena’s loudspeaker. Because the Citrus Bowl is a public facility, the FHSAA refused, and a Christian “defense” group sued. As Mehta noted,

The state didn’t do anything wrong. They didn’t block kids from praying. They merely said a public loudspeaker in a public facility couldn’t be used to broadcast prayer during a state event. This isn’t hard to understand unless you work for a Christian legal group, and your paycheck requires you to scream “Persecution!!!” three times a day…

The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment prohibits government from endorsing or sponsoring religion. The Free Exercise Clause prohibits government from interfering with private religious expression. As Mehta quite accurately explained,

This game was overseen and managed by the state, even if Christian schools were involved, and that meant following state law. Both teams were obviously allowed to pray before the game, and after the game, and during halftime, and silently whenever the hell they want. They could pull a Tebow during the game if they wanted to. And because they were private schools, the coaches could legally join in.

The lawsuit argued that just giving the schools this expansive right to pray wasn’t enough:

By denying access to the loudspeaker,” the suit states, “the FHSAA denied the students, parents and fans in attendance the right to participate in the players’ prayer or to otherwise come together in prayer as one Christian community.”

Evidently, prayer only counts when it’s Christian, and done publicly and loudly.

A couple of quotes from representatives of Freedom From Religion are worth sharing:

Their right to their own religious prayer practice ends where the rights of non-adherents begin, especially as it involves students. To think that the government should be required to concede to this demand is arrogance of highest order. Would they sit still for Muslim or Hindu prayers over the loudspeakers should such a group field a championship football team? Would they want the government to effectively endorse those religions through such largess?

Cambridge Christian is within its rights to force prayers on students and parents over its own loudspeakers, but not at a state-sanctioned high school championship. We hope the court will see that this is not a matter of censorship, but the appropriate use of a public facility for a secular sporting event and not a religious revival.

The libertarian principle that underlies our Constitution gives each of us the right to “do our own thing,” so long as we do not thereby harm the person or property of others, and so long as we are willing to give an equal right to others.

Forbidding government from privileging certain religious beliefs over others is not censorship, and demanding respect for the “equal right” of all citizens (or roommates) is not “persecution.”

It’s time for religious bullies to get over themselves.

When Some Are More Equal Than Others….

Contemporary American society reminds me a lot of Orwell’s Animal Farm, where everyone was equal, but some were more equal than others…

The last few years have ushered in a long-overdue recognition of the concept of privilege: we are at least beginning to discuss what we mean by white privilege and male privilege, and the ways in which unconscious cultural biases operate to disadvantage non-white, non-male citizens. Those conversations are important, and we need to continue them, but I want to suggest that it is also time–indeed, well past time–to address religious privilege.

It’s getting out of hand.

Just last week, a legislative committee in Tennessee approved a bill that would make the “Holy Bible” the “official book” of Tennessee.

In Mississippi, the legislature passed a bill that “gives protection to those in the state who cannot in a good conscience provide services for a same-sex marriage.”

North Carolina recently “protected” good Christian folks from having to share restrooms with citizens of whom they disapprove, among other things.

Other states–notably Indiana–have passed measures clearly intended to cater to the religious beliefs of some (certainly not all) Christians about abortion, despite the fact that those measures demonstrably harm women.

Meanwhile, scientists continually fight efforts to introduce creationism into science classrooms, and civil libertarians oppose ongoing attempts to introduce prayer and religious observances into the nation’s increasingly diverse public schools.

All of these efforts, even those that have been repeatedly struck down by the courts as inconsistent with our First Amendment liberties, are met with a degree of respect that we would not accord other illegal actions. For that matter, these self-proclaimed “Christians” expect–and receive–a level of deference not accorded to atheists, or even members of other, less privileged religions.

As I write this, the Supreme Court is considering whether religiously affiliated organizations that employ people of many faiths and none can refuse to allow those employees access to birth control through their health insurance policies. The government has already bent over backwards to accommodate religious objections: the employer need not pay for the birth control and needs only to inform the government of its objection; the insurer will then provide contraceptives directly to the employee. The organizations are arguing that requiring the act of notification“burdens” their religious liberty.

In an analysis of that case, The Nation recently asked a pertinent question: Can religious groups simply ignore all the laws they don’t like?

Given their constant insistence on privileging the pious, it might be well to reflect upon the performance of our sanctimonious “family values” politicians. Those of us who live in Indiana are painfully aware of the damage done by self-proclaimed Christians with little or no interest in actually governing, but it is worth noting that things are even worse in deep-red Alabama. H/T Steve Benen at Rachel Maddow’s blog, reporting on Governor Bentley’s deepening sex scandal:

The Birmingham News’ John Archibald published a brutal column today noting that Alabama’s state government is simply unraveling: the governor is mired in scandal; the lieutenant governor is widely seen as “unfit to serve”; the state House Speaker is currently awaiting trial on 23 felony counts; and the state Supreme Court’s chief justice is Roy Moore, whose crackpot views have already forced his ouster once, and who can hardly be counted on to adjudicate responsibly going forward.

But they all go to church. And hold prayer meetings. And quote the bible. And (like Indiana’s Governor) they clearly believe that those attributes–not compassion, not administrative competence, not constitutional scholarship, not personal probity– are the qualities that entitle them to use the power of the state to force the rest of us to behave as they see fit.

We really need to stop privileging people who want to impose their beliefs on the rest of us, whether those beliefs are ideological or religious in origin.

We definitely need to remind these self-righteous theocrats that in America, wrapping themselves in religious dogma does not make them more equal than anyone else.



Privilege and Persecution

Can you stand one more rumination triggered by the marriage license controversy in Kentucky?

Usually, when Americans talk about inequality, we’re talking about economic disparities; over the past several years, such conversations have tended to focus on the troubling and growing gap between the “one-percenters” and everyone else. But every once in a while, we need to remind ourselves and our fellow Americans that there are other kinds of inequality—sometimes affecting economic opportunity, sometimes not—that can also be deeply corrosive of public life and civility.

The obvious example, of course, is racism, which has become more visible due to some white folk’s seething resentment over Obama’s election. But racism isn’t the only manifestation of tribalism and legal disadvantage that the Fourteenth Amendment was intended to address.

The past few weeks, we’ve seen a flare-up of America’s long-simmering “culture war,” thanks to Kim Davis, the Kentucky County Clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples and defied several court orders demanding that she follow the law.

Her legal position is untenable, even ludicrous. (She has a constitutional right to religious liberty but no right to hold a government position and no right to use that position to deny equal rights to others.) But her defiance has once again exposed a persistent belief on the part of many Americans that this is a “Christian Nation,” and that any denial of Christian privilege is tantamount to persecution.

Indeed, in a particularly offensive assertion of that perspective, Davis’ lawyer characterized her five days in jail for contempt of court as “just like what happened” to Jews in Nazi Germany.

Several Republican candidates for President have rushed to defend Davis and “religious liberty.” An increasingly unhinged Mike Huckabee has warned of the imminent “criminalization” of Christianity; rhetoric from Cruz, Trump, Jindal and others has been equally intemperate. Anyone listening to them would conclude that secularists control America and are oppressing the few remaining Christians.

Sane people, on the other hand, observe that over seventy percent of Americans identify as Christian, that every President the country has ever elected has been Christian, and that Christians—at least white ones—are privileged by the culture to an extent that few of them recognize or admit. Christians routinely get time off work to celebrate religious holidays, Christian music and television programs with Christian themes fill the airways, and multiple stores carry items Christians need in order to celebrate religious holidays. Unlike Muslims, Jews and others, Christians aren’t pressured to celebrate holidays that conflict with their religious values. The (extensive) list goes on.

The erosion of privilege can trigger unpleasant responses from those who feel entitled to deference. Some men react badly as women make inroads into what was once a “man’s world.” Efforts to ameliorate structural racism engender hostility and resentment. We probably shouldn’t be surprised to see the same reaction from those who have uncritically accepted Christian privilege as their due, and who consider any diminution of their exalted social status an unwarranted affront.

How did Orwell put it in Animal Farm? Everyone is equal, but some are more equal than others.

And some want to keep it that way.