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Faith Under Fire

May 9 2002

Al Qaeda prisoners at Guantanamo get prayer mats, Korans, and lamb and dates on holy days. We brought in counselors to comfort them, hired clerics to advise on their care, and ordered Marines to paint arrows so the terrorists could pray toward Mecca.

Americans employed by the federal government can only dream of such tender mercies. Courtesy of a Clinton order - oh, the irony! -- government workers must now attend “Harassment-Free Workplace” seminars where, in the name of tolerance, religious faith - make that Christian faith - is pronounced intolerable.

Consider this case study from the feds’ anti-bias curriculum:

Agnes is a mid-level manager. To open staff meetings, Agnes occasionally makes comments such as, “I want to thank God for bringing me such wonderful people.” On Monday mornings, she talks about the church activities she attended over the weekend. When sending written, informal correspondence, she uses her personal stationary, which features quotes from scripture….On several occasions, Agnes’ behavior has come up during conversations among the workforce. Some members of her work group have commented that they are uncomfortable with Agnes’ frequent references to her religion because her comments conflict with their own faith…

In another context - the real world, for example - managers would have clamored to hire Agnes. In most times and places, her faith would have been an asset, improving the odds that she could be trusted. But Agnes is now a worst-case scenario.

In this age of “-isms,” sexism, racism, and even ageism have all been blacklisted - banished to history’s hall of shame. They’ve become the stuff of lawsuits, reverse scarlet letters applied to deviants who skip sensitivity training.

But one socially acceptable bias has escaped the scouring of the Thought Police. You’re not allowed to notice that the passenger overlapping your airline seat is metabolically- challenged. You aren’t permitted to wonder if Sally Anne is really suited to frontline combat or if Murphy Brown made a mistake. But you can still throw Christians to the lions.

When Ted Turner said “Christians are bozos,” what if he had substituted Jews or African Americans? Or when Jesse Ventura called Christianity "a sham and a crutch for weak-minded people who need strength in numbers," what if he had said the same about feminism or environmentalism? The consequent uproar would have made the LA riots look like toddlers scuffling in the sandbox.

So why does this final refuge of prejudice remain? Because people of faith turn the other cheek? Because humans naturally make judgments and all other forms of difference are now taboo? Perhaps. But the attack is more organized than individual aversion and broader than specific antagonists.

Consider our Supreme Court’s half-century assault on faith. In 1948, the high court struck down voluntary religious instruction in public schools. In 1962, it ruled that opening school days with prayer violated the establishment clause. Voluntary recitation of scripture fell prey the following year, and Madalyn Murray became a household name. In 1980, the court outlawed the posting of the Ten Commandments. Five years later, even a moment of silence was deemed destructive. Now nativity scenes are gone, graduation ceremonies are stripped of religious content, and, most recently, student-led prayer at sporting events was hushed in a decision Chief Justice Rehnquist wrote “bristles with hostility to all things religious in public life.”

Why the hostility? Certainly not because secularism regards faith as quaint. If it was nothing more than a historical fixation with an executed vagabond, Christians would be no more dangerous than Elvis fans. But theirs is a potent allegiance with the power to change lives.

For individuals, proximity to faith begs an answer to cosmic questions. “Where did I come from?” and “Where am I going?” needn’t be water cooler chatter to make a co-worker wonder he isn’t more than the coincidence of time-brewed atoms.

For the state, the stakes are even higher because spirituality poses the threat of ultimate authority. If God is the author of rights, the government’s power recedes. Thus the project to remove divinity’s taint. Believers who modulate their conduct by a morality more infinite than the court’s notion that “Thou shalt not kill” is inappropriate courtroom décor may eventually resist other encroachments. They are less malleable, less docile, less likely to be awed by state power.

That is the original sin for which Christianity now stands accused.

There’s a reason the terrorists at Gitmo get baklava on Eid al-Adha while Agnes gets charged with harassment. It’s the same reason we mark history by the death of a nomadic preacher. His truth is marching on. Militant secularism perceives the rising challenge and unable to dismiss its power responds in the only way left for souls ransomed to Trotsky’s conviction that “God is the state; the state is God.” They make faith illegal - knowing full well that’s already been tried.

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