October 19th, 2014 1 comment
For a while now, there has been paranoid claims from the religious right that society is becoming so hostile to religion that Christians could be arrested for their beliefs. Much of this is over Christians who condemn homosexuality and see hate laws and anti-discriminatory measures as direct legal attacks on their faith. Back in 2009, some Christians fretted that they could face “legal sanctions” for merely expressing their God-given beliefs. Earlier this year, three congregations were shocked when actual city police officers marched into their churches and arrested three pastors. The police officers and the pastors all claimed in the video of the event that the arrests were for “defending the faith.” The congregations later learned that the entire event was staged, the arrests mock ones, intended to show how difficult it had become to preach one's beliefs in current times. Recently we have seen a series of movies showing Christians being persecuted for their beliefs, from a ridiculous movie about a college Philosophy professor forcing his class to admit God doesn't exist, to a movie literally titled “Persecuted,” about a government conspiracy to create laws to, apparently, mute Christianity by mixing it with all other religions, or something. I haven't seen the movie, so I don't know if the reviews or the movie itself is bizarrely unclear. The main character is framed for a crime he did not commit, and stands to be imprisoned. And just now, Texas Senator Ted Cruz stated that he believes there is a “real risk” that clergy will literally be arrested and imprisoned for advocating “traditional marriage.” All this despite the fact that, not only are Christians not being arrested and imprisoned, but the law is trending very strongly against any such eventuality. While others are being granted legal rights that these religious conservatives deplore and wish to stop, any law which even seems to infringe on religious freedoms, even tangentially, is being struck down—even if it means limiting the freedoms of people who believe differently. Indeed, if you want to find anyone being sent to prison for their beliefs, you'r going to have to look at atheists. In California, in 2004, Barry A. Hazle, Jr. was arrested for meth possession. California law, in the wake of Prop 36, states that you have to be given three chances to remain sober. Hazle was in the process of being served with his second warning when police serving him found an unopened bottle of Whiskey in his apartment; that liquor got him sent to prison. The sentence was later overturned, as a court decided Hazle was arrested for a third offense which was committed before he was informed he had expended his second one. In the meantime, Hazle went to prison for a year. After one year, he was offered a chance at parole—but only if he agreed to enter a rehab program. Hazle agreed, and was released on parole. However, a problem soon turned up: the rehab program demanded that all its members “recognize a higher power,” i.e., God. Hazle, an atheist, had problems with that. According to records, he “congenially” stated his concerns and requested a different program. Since no secular program was found, his parole officer sent him back to jail for another 100 days. He sued and won a sizable settlement, and California has since changed its laws not to so discriminate. However, Hazel essentially served 100 days in prison for being an atheist; a Christian would have been allowed to go free. In a society where Christians win national news coverage for their alleged “persecution” just because a business refuses to print religious material for copyright reasons, can you imagine what the reaction would be if a Christian were sentenced to jail because they refused to renounce God? Holy Crap, the Internet would explode and there would be weeks of non-stop coverage on Fox. Hazle's story barely made the news, mostly just local reports. And although California changed its laws, there are many states which have not; and in many other ways, atheists are marginalized and given second-class citizenship—something Antonin Scalia (who calls atheists “irrational,” believers “worldly wise,” and believes that atheism “certainly favors the devil's desires”) recently claimed was completely constitutional. No, it's not religion that is being persecuted in the United States.