Last week, a conference in Washington, D.C., featuring prominent social conservatives including former House majority leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), examined the "War on Christians"—not in Afghanistan where a man has narrowly escaped a death sentence for converting from Islam to Christianity, nor in communist dictatorships where preaching the gospel can land you in prison. The War on Christianity that DeLay and others are concerned about is being waged right here in the United States.
Once, conservatives used to deplore the left's cult of victimhood and ridicule the obsession with real or imagined slights toward women, minorities, and other historically oppressed groups. Now, the right is embracing a victimhood cult obsessed with slights toward a group that makes up 85 percent of the American population. According to a Washington Post report, one conference speaker, Navy chaplain Lieutenant Gordon James Klingenschmitt, compared himself to Abdur Rahman, the Afghan convert. Showing slides of himself and Rahman, Klingenschmitt inquired, "What do these two Christians have in common?" and answered: "Perhaps we are persecuted." His persecution consisted of being disciplined by a commander for saying sectarian prayers at a sailor's memorial service. DeLay, ousted as House majority leader after being indicted for money laundering and conspiracy, was touted as another victim of religious bigotry, targeted for being outspoken about his faith, and his legal and political woes were compared to a crucifixion. (Isn't that offensive to Christians?) One is reminded of race-obsessed zealots who see a racist conspiracy in every prosecution of a prominent African-American, from O.J. Simpson to a corrupt politician. There is a nugget of truth in some complaints of anti-Christian bias. Many people in the academic and journalistic elites do turn up their noses at anything that smacks of faith. Some activists, courts, and public officials have misconstrued the prohibition on state establishment of religion as banning any mention of religion in the public square, from a tiny church with a cross on a city seal to a reference to God in a high school graduation speech. The "War on Christians" conference featured such an incident: An artist's three paintings for a Black History Month art show at the City Hall of Deltona, Florida, were rejected because they included a man in an "I love Jesus" cap and a minister with a Bible. (The ban was reversed under threat of a lawsuit.) Such bizarre secularist excesses should be condemned. But the complainers go much further. They cry persecution when religious conservatives are denied the ability to impose their beliefs on everyone—for instance, to ban abortion or gay unions. In fact, much of the hostility they encounter is directed at this political agenda, not at religion as such: People who bash the religious right seldom object when faith is invoked to protest war, poverty, or racism. This is a double standard, to be sure, but it's just as hypocritical for religious conservatives to suggest that Christians who don't subscribe to their brand of values aren't "real" Christians. Thus, at last week's conference, the Rev. Tom Crouse of Holland, Mass., lamented that his idea of holding a "Mr. Heterosexual" contest to "proclaim the truth that God created us all heterosexual" encountered widespread disapproval and found no support even from "Bible-believing churches" because "it wasn't loving." Apparently, Christian churches that accept gay men and women are part of an anti-Christian war. Attempts to portray Christians as a beleaguered minority are particularly ludicrous since, outside a few elite enclaves, prejudice against the nonreligious remains widely accepted in America. Half of Americans agree that belief in God is necessary to having good moral values, and more than two-thirds say they would not even consider voting for a nonbeliever for political office. Georgia state legislator Ron Foster ruffled no feathers a few years ago when he noted, in defense of posting of the Ten Commandments in government buildings, that judges or public officials who don't believe in God are "more likely to be corrupt." This soft bigotry has consequences, and not just for godless politicians. In the May issue of the New York University Law Review, UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh documents discrimination against nonreligious parents in child custody disputes, based on the assumption that raising your children in a religious faith makes you a better parent. To be sure, there are atheists who are militantly hostile to all religion, and reinforce negative stereotypes of nonbelievers. But there are also believers who give the faithful a bad name—like the whiners and zealots who wring their hands about a mythical "war on Christians."