The Cry of the Oppressor
Newt Gingrich, in the latest debate:
…one of the reasons I am running is there has been an increasingly aggressive war against religion and in particular against Christianity in this country, largely by a secular elite and the academic news media and judicial areas. And I frankly believe it’s important to have some leadership that stands up and says, enough; we are truly guaranteed the right of religious freedom, not religious suppression by the state.
The general claim is nothing new, but Newt’s statement is notable in two ways: how comprehensive it is, and where it was said.
Usually, such claims are made in specific circumstances. For example, Jessica Ahlquist, a high school student and atheist in Rhode Island, successfully sued her school to remove a prayer that it had displayed prominently in the school auditorium for nearly half a century. Her objection was proper, and, as the courts recognized, the entirely legal thing to do. A public school using public funds to deliver a religious message is absolutely illegal; that it happens so often is not an expression of the founders’ wishes, but a daily abrogation of one of their highest principles. That the case took down an infringement which had hung for so long, far from being a slap in the face to tradition, was a refreshing sign that perhaps other similar infringements–such as religious statements on currency or in a pledge children are forced to recite–may also someday be rectified.
However, the Christianists believe that “separation of church and state” means, if anything, that the state cannot interfere with whatever religion wants to do, including proselytizing from public office using taxpayer money; and that the prohibition of Congress against making laws “respecting an establishment of religion” means the state cannot create a religion from scratch all by itself. Thus, they see the accurate reading of the law as being not just wrong, but an actual assault against their freedom to express religion wherever and whenever they please.
As a result, you’ll hear Christianists complaining about a “war on Christianity” in that context, with the atheist or religious secularist getting bashed and smeared as some hooligan trying to rob people of their religious freedom.
Or else you’ll hear Christianists getting all upset whenever “Christmas” is referred to as a “holiday,” in the horrific context of other religious or secular celebrations being held equal to the Christian one. To the Christianist right, “Happy Holidays” is now a slur, a godless curse, an insult to their beliefs and an attempt to deprive them of their rights.
Gingrich, however, piled on the whole list of grievances in one short, clearly scripted utterance. Let’s look at it in chunks:
…there has been an increasingly aggressive war against religion and in particular against Christianity in this country…
First of all, we get the “War on Christianity” claim. This is a catch-all which includes the exclusion of school-directed prayer (individual prayer in schools is completely OK), Christian displays on public property required to share the stage with other beliefs, and the generalization of religious celebrations into a generic holiday description. The former two are often the result of lawsuits, which are focused on sharply as a primary source of attack.
What’s fascinating here, however, is Newt’s claim that not just Christianity, but religion in general is being attacked. Why is that fascinating? Because the people attacking religions other than Christianity are not the secularists, but the Christians themselves. When was the last time you heard of an atheist filing a lawsuit against an Islamic prayer? Almost never–and not because they favor other religions (which Christianists sometimes claim), but because no other religion is ever in a dominant enough position to infringe on the rights of others.
What is truly hypocritical is the fact that Christianists are the only ones who actually try to deny others the right to freedom of belief and legal expression. They openly discriminate against people who believe differently from them. They refuse to serve atheists or Muslims in their businesses. They clamor to take down atheist billboards and actually fight to prevent Islamic mosques from being opened, even in remote rural areas with no one else around. They’re the ones that howl in protest when any other religion aside from Christianity gets to deliver an invocation or inaugural prayer. They vote down anyone who is not Cristian from getting into public office. Even Gingrich himself has said he would not allow anyone who is non-religious to even serve in government, and you know he would shut out most non-Christians in the same way.
And the Christian claim to persecution? Despite being the dominant religion with their beliefs almost everywhere, including on the currency, in prayers before public sessions, in the Pledge of Allegiance and nearly all other public oaths, etc. etc.–the persecution against them is horrific because they don’t get to slather their religion in every last nook and cranny of society. Not because they’re actually being shut out, but because they are not allowed to dominate everywhere.
Who is doing this dastardly shutting out?
…largely by a secular elite and the academic news media and judicial areas.
This one prepositional phrase carries an amazing load of trumped-up and untruthful invective against innocent and even imaginary non-Christians.
First, the “secular elite.” Exactly who, pray tell, would that consist of? This is as false and dishonest a boogeyman as the “liberal elite” from which Gingrich pawned it off. According to Gingrich, there is some secret cabal of atheists out there plotting to destroy religious liberty in America. Boogah boogah.
Second, the “academic news media.” Academic? What, is there a news media made up of college professors and researchers that I haven’t heard of? Apparently, education, schools, and teachers are just as evil to Gingrich as “moderates” are, to the point where just saying “academic” (where it even makes no sense) is somehow a justifiable slur. As for the “news media,” that is, of course, the “liberal media.” But wait–how is the news media attacking religion? Truth be told, I hadn’t heard that one before. Is it because they report news Gingrich doesn’t like? That’s the only thing I can think of.
And finally–and this is the scary part when it comes to Gingrich–the judiciary. Long libeled and slandered by the right wing for deciding cases according to law rather then by far-right ideology, the judiciary has the utter gall to follow the Constitution as it was written and intended by the founders. Even conservative judges, like the Bush 43 appointee who ruled against Intelligent Design in Dover, PA, more often rule by the law rather than by their personal political preferences (although that balance is disturbingly migrating in the other direction).
Why is Gingrich’s focus scary? Because Gingrich himself actually suggested that judges could be arrested and hauled before Congress if they dared rule cases in a way that displeased the far right.
So, we come to:
And I frankly believe it’s important to have some leadership that stands up and says, enough; we are truly guaranteed the right of religious freedom, not religious suppression by the state.
“Suppression.” What he means is, Christians (just like everyone else) cannot promulgate religious doctrine using government funds, or via the office of public representatives. That is the only way Christianity (in the exact same way as every other belief system, including atheism) is “suppressed”–and it is that way for the sole purpose of protecting religious liberty, to keep a single religious sect from acquiring power and thus actually suppressing all other religious beliefs in all avenues of life, as it has in so many countries which marry church and state.
This protection of the freedom of belief is called “suppression.” Which makes me wonder how, exactly, Christianists like Gingrich define “suppression.”
Is it like when Christians suppress the right of Muslims to build a mosque? When was the last time Christians were barred from building a church in America?
Like when Christians suppress the right of atheists to erect a billboard? When was the last time an American Christian organization was harassed into taking down a billboard with an inoffensive message?
Like when Christians run a Jewish family out of their Delaware town for protesting when their kids are singled out in Christian prayer at school? When was the last time a Christian family was run out of town after an Imam, preaching in a public school, singled out the Christian child, surrounded by Muslims, and prayed for her to convert?
Like every single election in America, when, with only rare exceptions, you can only get elected if you profess your Christianity? When was the last time a candidate lost for being mainstream Christian? Christians are so vehement about this kind of suppression that even other Christians (today, Mormons, earlier, Catholics) are heavily disfavored?
I wanted to say that Christians suppress religion far more than others in America–but even that’s not true. Outside of church and state issues, as far as I am aware, Christians are the only ones suppressing the freedom of belief in America.
Gingrich is partaking in the long-favored conservative practice of accusing people he is persecuting of persecuting him.