Shooting at Family Research Council Not an Example of "War on Religion"

Two weeks ago a gunman opened fire at the offices of the Family Research Council, a right wing group that lobbies against marriage equality, supports the unscientific definition of life as beginning at conception, and pushes a false definition of "religious liberty."

After the shooting, the Secular Coalition for America condemned the shooting, along with many other nontheist and gay rights groups, many of which are diametrically opposed to the mission of the FRC. We believe the debate surrounding the role of religion in the public sphere should be fought with reason and logic, not guns.

Unfortunately, the FRC and other like-minded groups are using the attack by a lone gunman to further their misguided claim of a "war on religion."

The American Family Association, a conservative evangelical group said about the shooting, "The left's war on religion and Christianity has now gone from symbolic to literal."

Earlier this week Kelly Shackelford, President and CEO of Liberty Institute, and Tony Perkins, President of the Family Research Council, officially released "The Survey on Religious Hostility" in and launched an  interactive website at www.religioushostility.org, which compiles "more than 600 cases of religious hostility" that have occurred in the last decade. 

There are some harsh realities here, and none of them are in line with the message the religious right groups are attempting to sell. The true attack taking place in this country is the one being waged on America's secular founding principles by groups such as the FRC. In fact, the FRC is classified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a "hate group."

And those "600 cases of religious hostility"? In reality the FRC's 140 page document largely details thwarted attempts by the religious right to impose their religion on others in the public square or obtain privileging or exemptions from the government.

For example page 84 of the report details, "For thirty-five years, Jackson County, Alabama, invited ‘Bible Man' to visit its schools and share Bible stories with elementary school students." In 2012, a law suit was filed and now "Bible Man" can no longer come to public elementary schools to indoctrinate young children on the taxpayers' dime. 

In most of these examples individuals and organizations fought to protect their First Amendment rights to religious freedom-and won. If we are to believe the FRC, anyone who does not want religion imposed on them in the public square is "attacking religion" or exhibiting "religious hostility."

True attacks on religious freedom include examples, such as the attack on a Sikh temple in Wisconsin earlier this month. This attack resulted in the death of six people peacefully worshiping by a lone white supremacist gunman that opened fire on worshipers.

The reactions from the FRC and other religious right groups in the days after the shooting at the FRC's offices were disturbing. Instead of blaming the shooting on a lone crazed gunman, they chose to politicize it and blame "the left" for a so-called "war on religion and Christianity." Sadly, this type of dog whistle rhetoric is exactly what whips followers into a frenzy and causes the type of violence experienced at the FRC.

A 2011 article in the Daily Beast read, "For the last thirty years, conservative activists in particular have been quick to grasp the potential of apocalyptic rhetoric, forever reminding their listeners of the terrible threats posed by ‘militant gays,' ‘liberal educators,"' ‘baby killers,' and ‘godless politicians.' As Terry Dolan of the National Conservative PAC told an interviewer way back in 1978, the whole point was to "make them angry." "We are trying to be divisive," he explained. "The shriller you are, the better it is to raise money.""

For example, in 2009 Dr. George Richard Tiller was murdered. Tiller operated one of only three clinics nationwide that provided abortions after 21 weeks of pregnancy, after years of charged rhetoric directed at him by the religious right. Tiller was discussed in at least 28 episodes of the O'Reilly Factor, and described frequently as "Tiller the Baby Killer" both on the O'Reilly show, and by Congressman Robert K. Dornan, who had used it on the floor of Congress.

Talk radio, which is almost exclusively conservative, is filled with hateful rhetoric.  A study on talk radio showed that 91 percent of total weekday talk radio programing was conservative-resulting in 10 times as much conservative talk as progressive talk. That talk radio has a very real and very dangerous result-it increases hatred toward minorities.

A study released in August 2012 by the National Hispanic Media Coalition and UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center, "Social Networks for Hate Speech", analyzed the themes and content of "The Rush Limbaugh Show," "The Sean Hannity Show," "The Glenn Beck Program," "The Savage Nation" and "The John and Ken Show." The study found that listening to conservative talk radio directly contributes to hatred against minority groups-including gays.

"This social network targets vulnerable groups in content that is spread across affiliated social media web sites. The result is an echo-chamber of voices, both online and off, that promotes hatred against ethnic, racial, religious groups and the LGBT community on social media web sites," National Hispanic Media Coalition President and CEO Alex Nogales told Fox News Latino.

Somehow we are to believe that when charged rhetoric-sometimes forthright in its hatred, and other times coded or thinly veiled-comes from the religious right it is justified language that causes no harm, because it's supporting the so-called "word of God"-or at least their version of it. But when organizations peacefully speak out against a religious right organization that is officially classified as a "hate group" for its use of explosively offensive language, they are the ones to blame.  

There is no "war on religion." If only the FRC and like-minded groups would tone down the rhetoric, then and only then can we have rational discussions regarding the real issues our country faces as it relates to questions of religion in the public square. But perhaps rational discussion is precisely what they aim to avoid.

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