Persecution Complex: Who's the Real Victim of Discrimination?

Article excerpt

ONE OF THE MOST APPALLING things about the religious right these days is how its leaders constantly portray themselves as victims.

When courts block fundamentalist Christians from forcing their religion into public schools and government institutions, religious right leaders cry discrimination and say they're being victimized.

When the scientific community rejects the religious right's pseudo-scientific ideas about human origins, theocrats complain of unfair treatment and hint darkly of conspiracies, again playing the victim card.

It's ironic because in reality religious fundamentalists, like other religious believers, enjoy an incredible amount of religious freedom. Americans are free to start houses of worship and other religious entities as they see fit. Generally speaking, these institutions are very loosely regulated, if at all.

Under Internal Revenue Service regulations, for example, houses of worship are granted tax-exempt status by mere dint of their existence. They don't have to fill out any paperwork or apply for anything.

Private religious schools must meet basic fire and safety codes--but not much else. They can hire and fire staff by whatever criteria they choose. They can teach creationism in lieu of science. Their teachers don't have to be certified.

Even zoning, which used to be perceived as the quintessential local issue, has been co-opted by a federal law designed to make it easier for churches to build wherever they like.

And it's so hard to argue seriously that religion or religious people are discriminated against in the United States. Yet religious right leaders keep trying. Lately they've been playing the victimization card on Capitol Hill.

The leadership of Focus on the Family recently sent a letter to Congress asking representatives to vote against the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). This long-sought legislation would end many forms of employment discrimination against gays and lesbians.

According to Focus, this bill would somehow turn conservative Christians into victims of discrimination. The Focus letter contains examples of "Christian" business that would allegedly be adversely affected by it.

"Gay rights activists have wanted this bill for a long time," said Ashley Home, federal policy analyst for Focus on the Family Action, "to keep religious employers from being able to hire and fire based on their moral convictions."

In twenty-nine states it's legal to fire a person for no other reason than his or her sexual preference. Many people view that as rank discrimination, akin to firing someone on the basis of his or her ethnic background or national origin.

EDNA would go a long way toward stopping this type of discrimination aimed at gays and lesbians. Just as workers can no longer be fired simply for being black or Jewish, under EDNA they couldn't he dismissed solely on the basis of sexual orientation. At the very least, EDNA would give gays and lesbians a legal avenue to challenge such dismissals.

Yet according to Focus, this bill--designed to expand rights--is instead one that restricts them. It supposedly takes away the rights of "religious employers" to hire and fire on "moral" grounds.

As usual, Focus isn't telling the whole truth. …