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Why FRC’s New “Religious Hostility” Report Is A Joke

August 22, 2012 3:21 pm ET by Carlos Maza

Anti-gay groups have for years attacked the advance of LGBT equality by depicting it as part of a growing effort in America to silence Christians and shut down religious freedom. Evidence for this claim has always been questionable, however, and a new report this week documenting so-called “religious hostility” over the past several years is no exception.

The Family Research Council (FRC) and Liberty Institute published a study on Tuesday alleging that threats to religious liberty in America have reached an “all-time high.” The report – titled “The Survey of Religious Hostility in America” – lists over six hundred examples of “attacks against people of faith” in the U.S. over the past several years. According to an “Open Letter to the American People” included in the report:

America today would be unrecognizable to our Founders. Our first freedom is facing a relentless onslaught from well-funded and aggressive groups and individuals who are using the courts, Congress, and the vast federal bureaucracy to suppress and limit religious freedom. This radicalized minority is driven by an anti- religious ideology that is turning the First Amendment upside down.

On Fox & Friends Tuesday morning, FRC president Tony Perkins touted the report, asserting that “our First Amendment has become a last priority for the courts.”

Looking over the report’s methodology, though, it’s hard to come to the conclusion that religious freedom is somehow under siege by gay activists (or anyone else, for that matter) in America.

1. “Attacks” Are Loosely Defined. It’s unclear what standard FRC used to define “attacks” on religious liberty, but the report seems to include any incident in which there was even a disagreement relating to a person’s religious beliefs.

According to FRC’s report, “attacks” on religious liberty included: 

  • The Post Office advising employees to greet customers by saying “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”
  • The Air Force no longer requiring officers to encourage their subordinates to attend chapel
  • A secular group criticizing UPS for issuing a Mother Teresa memorial stamp
  • A group challenging a church’s non-profit status after it campaigned in favor of ousting pro-equality judges

FRC’s report includes cases in which no legal action was taken at all. According to the report, the mere existence of public criticism of a religious display or event – like a complaint from the Freedom From Religion Foundation – was enough to constitute an “attack” on religious freedom. 

2. “Attacks” Included Disputes That Were Resolved In Favor Of Religious Liberty. Another problem with the report is that it includes any legal dispute related to religious liberty, even if that dispute ended up being resolved in favor of protecting religions individuals or organizations. On just the first two pages of the report’s recorded “attacks,” for instance, over half of the legal disputes that reached adjudication were resolved in favor of the First Amendment and protecting religious liberty.

This over-inclusive definition of an “attack” seriously undermines the report’s credibility; a number of the “attacks” included in the report are actually examples of religious liberty being protected by American courts – the very courts Perkins was criticizing on Fox.

3. The Report’s Examples Date Back To 1980. Although the report claims to focus on “attacks” on religious liberty over the past decade, its examples actuallydate back to as early as 1980, like the case of Florey v. Sioux Falls. The report includes dozens of examples from the 80s and 90s, and several other examples are left entirely undated. That’s an average of less than twenty incidences a year in a country of roughly three hundred million people.

So, to recap the report’s findings: Over the past three decades, there have been around 600 recorded examples of someone doing something that FRC perceives as anti-religion, and a number of these incidences actually ended up reaffirming religious liberty.

FRC’s report is undoubtedly red meat for religious conservatives, who repeatedly accuse progressives – and especially LGBT activists – of attacking Christianity and religious freedom. As a piece of credible research, however, the report reveals very little about the actual state of religious liberty in the U.S.


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