Christian leaders in the United States are still reeling from the latest survey from Pew Research Center regarding religious affiliation in the United States. Completed every seven years, the poll discovered that the number of people not affiliated with any religion is up over 40 percent during the last seven years from 16.1 percent in 2007 to 22.8 percent. At the same time, evangelical Protestants have shrunk about one percent, and Catholics have gone down about three percent. Mainline Protestants have decreased over three percent. Almost six percent of people in the United States identify with a non-Christian faith, an increase of 1.2 percent.
The greatest increases of nonaffiliated people were those born in the 1980s—about one-third of the population—and those born in the 1990s—rising to 36 percent. A surprising change was also found by the Christian polling company Barna Group. In the last 22 years, the percentage of women atheists and agnostics rose from 16 percent to 43 percent. One assumption for this change is that these skeptics regard Christian churches as “places that have ugly views, such as wars, preventing gay marriage and a woman’s freedom to control her body, sexual and physical violence perpetrated on people by religious authority figures, mixing religious beliefs with political policy and action.” Good guess!
When two gay men recently met with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), they may have honestly thought that they could have a reasonable dialog with the presidential candidate. Cruz said about his visit, “I know it’s been a long time since we’ve seen it, but this is what it means to truly be a ‘big tent Republican’ instead of a panderer.” The “tent” was short-lived. Last week Cruz said that the Democratic Party has “gotten so extreme and so radical in its devotion to mandatory gay marriage that they’ve decided there’s no room for the religious liberty protected under the First Amendment.” Time for LGBT people to leave the GOP tent.
Rep. Marsha Blackburn (T-TN) complained about this non-existent victimization at the recent “Freedom Summit” in South Carolina. When asked about Christian persecution, she said, “You know, there have been several lately. There’ve. Um. I can’t give you a specific [pause] right off the cuff.” She shrugged, said “I’m sorry,” smiled, turned away, and then looked back at the camera to finish, “Yeah. Thanks.” Tennessee, Blackburn’s home state, has a law prohibiting atheists from holding any public office.
After his disastrous performance in trying to answer questions about the Iraq War last week, Jeb Bush came up with the example of a florist discriminating against a gay couple as “the best example” of Christians facing persecution in the United States. He said that the country needs to be more “tolerant” of her viewpoint that the LGBT community doesn’t deserve equal access to business services. This statement follows an earlier expression of his support for a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.
Conservative columnist Kathleen Parker delivered a typical misinformed perspective on Christian persecution this past week. Her reference to how Roger Ailes’ Fox network protects Christians shows the source. She wrote:
“Why can’t the Little Sisters of the Poor suck it up and sign off on the Affordable Care Act’s demand that their insurance policy include contraception funding? Ditto Hobby Lobby, the family-owned craft business that prevailed in its Supreme Court fight to not fund insurance covering contraception that destroys embryos.”
No one ever demanded that the Little Sisters include contraception in its insurance, just that the group sign an application for a waiver. It refused. The for-profit Hobby Lobby was comfortable with birth control as long as Hobby Lobby made enough money from their stock in drug companies that sold these to women. The Satanist religion is now trying to protect women from the government’s interference in their health care. If Parker believes in lack of persecution for religion, she will also be supporting that, especially because she wrote that “the state should always go to extra lengths to protect religious liberty whenever possible.”
Parker claims that Hillary Clinton would “crush the individual’s [interests] in necessary to advance women’s rights” because she advocates women’s unfettered access to “reproductive health care and safe childbirth.” Parker added, “By contrast, Jeb Bush, who will become the GOP nominee if Republicans are smart, [said] it’s a depressing fact that when some people think of Christianity and of Judeo-Christian values, they think of something static, narrow and outdated….” (Depressing yes. Also true.)
The 40,000 students in the Clovis (CA) United School District will not be oppressed by religion after Fresno County Superior Court Judge Donald Black ruled that the religion-based abstinence-only sex education isn’t really sex-ed. Because of this religiously mandated curriculum, the United States faces high rates of sexually transmitted infections and unintended pregnancies.
Black concluded that programs dedicated to pushing abstinence rather than “medically and socially appropriate sexual education” are depriving students of “an important public right. The ruling is long overdue. California law prohibited schools from medically inaccurate or biased information in sex-ed courses since 2003. An example of teaching in the Clovis district is that a non-virgin woman is like a dirty shoe. While failing to provide information about birth control and condoms, abstinence-only programs also compare people who have had sex to chewed up gum, used tape, dirty chocolate, and glasses of spit. “This is the first time that abstinence-only-until-marriage curricula have been found to be medically inaccurate,” Phyllida Burlingame, director of Reproductive Justice Policy for the American Civil Liberties Union, said of the decision.
The ruling against using abstinence-only curriculum as sex ed may be heading for the Supreme Court along with Wal-Mart’s argument that the religious beliefs of their shareholders cannot guide the products that it sells. The Supreme Court in Hobby Lobby decided that corporations can avoid following laws because of its “religious beliefs,” overriding an argument from 44 lawyers that “allowing a corporation … to take on and assert the religious beliefs of its shareholders in order to avoid having to comply with a generally-applicable law with a secular purpose is fundamentally at odds with the entire concept of incorporation.”
The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last month against the Trinity Church, concluding that shareholders can’t impart their religious beliefs onto a corporation. Wal-Mart, one of 2012 CNN’s top nine “religious companies” in the U.S., refused to let its shareholders vote on whether the company should sell products that “might endanger public safety, hurt Wal-Mart’s reputation, or offend ‘family and community values’ which they believe are ‘integral to Wal-Mart’s brand.’” Wal-Mart and the federal court decided that the shareholders have no religious rights like Hobby Lobby does. The church had sued Wal-Mart because it sells products such as weapons used in mass shootings, including the one at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Maybe SCOTUS, Jeb Bush, and Kathleen Parker would agree with the shareholders because of their religious beliefs. Or maybe not.
Fundamentalist Christians may be shifting their belief that religion should control the U.S. government. Just five months ago, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) wanted leaders from the faith community to “rise up and engage America in the public square with Biblical values.” He calls for “pastors to lead the way and reset the course of American governance.” The GOP wants religious leaders to guide public debate.
That was before Pope Francis decided to sign a treaty recognizing a Palestinian country. At that point, Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC) said, “It’s interesting how the Vatican has gotten so political when ultimately the Vatican ought to be working to lead people to Jesus Christ and salvation, and that’s what the Church is supposed to do.” The conservatives have been upset about the pope’s progressive positions on climate change, Iran nuclear talks, Cuban diplomacy, economic inequality, and pay equity for women, but advocating a Palestinian state drove them over the edge.
Conservatives support religion in government as long as it’s their own religion. Any other time, religious leaders should stay quiet.