Discrimination against Americans of faith is on the increase, but if they stand up for their religious liberty, they can prevail, a new report says.
“Hostility to religion in America is rising like floodwaters,” Kelly Shackelford, president, CEO, and chief counsel at First Liberty Institute, writes in the report.
“This flood is engulfing ordinary citizens who simply try to live normal lives according to their faith and conscience.”
The report, an annual publication called “Undeniable: The Survey of Hostility to Religion in America,” is published by First Liberty Institute, a nonprofit legal organization that strives to protect religious liberty. It documents more than 1,200 legal cases involving persons who believe they have been discriminated against because of their religious beliefs.
“The survey has been growing both in number and in severity of the attacks every year,” Justin Butterfield, senior counsel for First Liberty Institute, told The Daily Signal.
In the past year, Butterfield said, the Obamacare mandate requiring religious employers to cover contraceptives in employee health plans has been especially troubling.
He said “the government is going after religious ministries to force them to provide abortion-inducing drug coverage in their insurance policies, against their religious beliefs.”
Noting that the vast majority of cases chronicled in the publication involves discrimination against Christians, Butterfield added:
We’ve seen a high school coach who was suspended [and later fired] for praying silently to himself after a football game. We’ve seen a Navy chaplain, Wes Modder, who was investigated by the Navy for giving pastoral counseling, as a chaplain, that followed his religious beliefs.
Cases documented in the new edition of “Undeniable” include:
- A library in Putnam County, Tenn., refused to allow Ilene Vick, the Christian author of “Personality Based Evangelism,” to hold a book discussion in its facility. After she filed a lawsuit, a “judge ordered the library to never again refuse access to its facility to a Christian.”
- A New Jersey school district fired substitute teacher Walt Tutka for giving a student a Bible, upon the request of the student, on school grounds. Tutka had quoted Scripture by telling the student as he came through a door last: “The first shall be last, but the last shall be first.” The report explains: “The student asked Tutka several times about the source of the quote. Tutka eventually used his personal Bible to show the quote to the student. At the student’s request, Tutka gave the student the Bible.” After First Liberty Institute filed a complaint over his firing with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the commission agreed that the school district had discriminated against Tutka “on the basis of religion and retaliation.”
- The New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs fired Patrick Cubbage, a veteran and honor guardsman, for saying the words “God bless you and this family, and God bless the United States of America”—a request from a fallen soldier’s son—as he presented a flag to the family. The agency said Cubbage had been warned not to give the blessing after doing the same with another family. In a settlement, he received back pay and got his job back.
- At the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, resident assistant Lance Steiger was not allowed to lead a Bible study in the basement of his dormitory, prompting him to file a federal lawsuit.
- Bedford County, Va., prohibited a private landowner from allowing religious services for the Cowboy Church of Virginia to be conducted in his barn. The landowner received a violation notice because zoning regulations didn’t allow the space to be used for religious meetings.
“We see over and over again churches that are being discriminated against by cities through discriminatory zoning ordinances,” Butterfield said.
He said cases in First Liberty’s survey include those in the public arena (people trying to live out their faith in the “real world”), schools, churches and ministries, and the military.
“The first step to recovery from any problem is to stop denying a problem exists,” Roger Severino, director of the DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society at The Heritage Foundation, told The Daily Signal, adding:
First Liberty Institute’s report shatters the myth that the left is on the side of tolerance by documenting countless examples of progressives using the power of government to target people of faith for hostility and exclusion because of their beliefs.
The report lists three reasons Americans should be concerned: Individuals and families are being hurt, the attacks injure all Americans, and freedom of religion is foundational to all other freedoms.
“Religious liberty is our first freedom as Americans,” Butterfield said. “It’s the first freedom that’s in the Bill of Rights, and it really does underpin all of our other freedoms. Once you lose religious liberty, then you lose political liberty. You end up in a world where all freedoms collapse.”
The report concludes: “Skillful legal strategy can protect religious liberty. But more Americans must awaken to the crisis.”
“There is hostility right here in America,” Butterfield said. “That’s something that we as Americans need to be worried about. It doesn’t just happen overseas in China or in Iran. It’s happening right here.”
When an American stand up for religious liberty rights, he said, it helps establish a precedent to protect not only that person, but others:
Even though [the report] documents an increasing number of attacks on religion and it documents increasing severity of attacks on religion, one thing it does show is that there is hope. When these people stand up for their rights, they win. We still have strong protections for religious liberty here in America.