5 Reasons the Religious Right Should Stop Whining About Being Persecuted
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Religious groups that can’t or don’t sponsor PACs trade on their generally good image. Most Americans think well of religion but not so well of politicians. Savvy political leaders know that granting broad access to clerics just makes good sense. Some of that goodwill may rub off. If conservative Christians were being persecuted or were considered pariahs, politicians would hardly be tripping over themselves to be seen with them, would they?
4. Religious groups get special breaks when it comes to lobbying.
Non-profit groups, whether on the left or the right, must abide by federal regulations that curb the amount of lobbying tax-exempt entities can do. They must also file disclosure reports that are available to the public, so it’s possible to see how much they are spending on attempts to influence legislators. But the purely religious groups – the denominations and church offices – are exempt from this rule. Thus, the Catholic bishops can drop a quarter of a billion or more on Capitol Hill without accounting for a dime.
Other denominations follow suit. Pew reports that the Southern Baptist Convention’s D.C. public policy office had a budget of $3.2 million in 2008. How much of that was spent on lobbying? No one knows because they aren’t required to say. A secular group that refused to disclose this information would quickly find itself in hot water with the federal government. Far from being persecuted, religious groups actually receive preferential treatment in this area.
5. Some religious groups have played the bigotry card to their advantage.
Religious Right groups have mastered the art of intimidating their opponents. Thus, anyone who dares to criticize groups for their anti-gay views is labeled a bigot who doesn’t believe in religious freedom. Anyone who offers spirited opposition to a right-wing religious group’s policy planks is accused of trying to keep that group from speaking out. This skillful manipulation of the language of victimology comes not from a truly oppressed minority but from those who have so much power that they’ve learned to game the system as a way of shutting down the opposition.
To these groups, religious freedom has a curious definition: It’s the right to force you to live by their religion. They have been wildly successful in putting across the idea that to speak against their political agenda is the same as speaking against their religion. No truly persecuted movement is this savvy in the game of politics.
Right-wing religious groups may claim persecution, but the numbers tell a different story. If you doubt this, just spend a day shadowing their employees in Congress, where, increasingly, they are greeted with warm smiles and open arms.
A final note in the spirit of full disclosure: The organization I work for, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, is number 15 on Pew’s list – even though we don’t consider ourselves a religious group. (AU is non-sectarian; some of our members are people of faith, but others are non-believers.) Our advocacy takes many forms – working with legislators, litigating in the courts and educating the public, to name a few. Sometimes we win battles, and sometimes we don’t. When we lose, we regroup to fight another day. We don’t whine that we’re being persecuted.
Rob Boston is senior policy analyst at Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
Rob Boston is the assistant director of communications for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which publishes Church and State magazine.