Saturday, December 20, 2014

HEINTZ: A real threat to religious freedom in America

By ANDY HEINTZ, For What It's Worth | 8/11/2014

Members of the “Religious Right” are correct: There is a threat to religious liberty in this country.

But they’re wrong about the source.

Members of the “Religious Right” are correct: There is a threat to religious liberty in this country.

But they’re wrong about the source.

The threat to religious freedom doesn’t come from secular progressives, nor does it come from the American Civil Liberties Union (much maligned in social conservative circles). It instead comes from the people the Religious Right see in the mirror each day.

I don’t have any enmity for religious people in this group. I have always enjoyed the company of Christian fundamentalists despite our sharply contrasting world views. And, I strongly promote more dialogue between secular progressives and conservative Christians. It’s much much more difficult to despise someone once you get to know them.

But what troubles me about the Christian Right is their victimization complex. Many, but not all, conservative Christians seem eager to cast themselves as principled victims of a government bent on undermining the freedom of people of faith to practice their religion. Former presidential candidates Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee are two of the most influential voices in this group.

Santorum, who also is CEO of EchoLight Studios, plans to release the movie “One Generation Away: The Erosion of Religious Liberty” Sept. 1. To say the trailer for the movie is chilling would be an insult to the mother tongue.

Two of the most disturbing aspects of the trailer include a picture of two men in suits — ostensibly government agents, cutting a cross down in a field — and Nazi imagery meant to imply that, if the government is allowed to continue its alleged attack against religious freedoms, America might end up like Nazi Germany. One man featured in the trailer goes so far as to say American Christians need to follow the example of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the heroic German theologian and pastor who ended up being killed for his principled stand against Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party.

There are so many things disturbing about this narrative. First, it’s an insult to millions of Jews and other victims of the Holocaust. When the Nazi comparison is used to make a point in America politics, it not only undermines the argument but it trivializes the memories of those who died in one of the most horrific acts of genocide in world history.

Second, the Christian Right’s willingness to cast themselves as victims is a slap in the face to Christians today facing real oppression in such countries as North Korea, Sudan, Egypt, Syria and Iraq. The victimhood narrative also hides the group’s real agenda — injecting their interpretation of Christianity into public education, science and people’s personal lives ... all beneath a veneer of imaginary persecution.

For example, Santorum once said our “civil laws must merely be in accordance with God’s law.” And, of course, he means his God, not the God or gods practiced by other faiths.

Not to be outdone, Huckabee, who is featured in Santorum’s movie, said the following during his 2008 presidential campaign:

“ ... I believe it’s a lot easier to change the Constitution than it would be to change the word of the living God. And that’s what we need to do is amend the Constitution so it’s in God’s standards rather than trying to change God’s standards so it lines up with some contemporary view ... ”

Such statements make one thing crystal clear: The Religious Right has, consciously or unconsciously, inverted the story so it conforms to its members’ own agenda. They portray themselves as wanting government out of religious affairs when what they really want is more religion, specifically their religion, influencing government decisions.

Andy Heintz is a political commentator. He previously was a Herald staff writer, now a sports reporter at the Ottumwa Courier, Ottumwa, Iowa. Read his blog at and follow @heintz23 on Twitter.

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