Editor’s note: Townhall Deputy News Editor Daniel Doherty recently spoke with Townhall columnist and Fox News host Todd Starnes about his most recent book: “God Less America: Real Stories From the Front Lines of the Attack on Traditional Values.” The transcript from that interview is as follows.
DD: Your new book is called “God Less America: Real Stories From the Front Lines of the Attack on Traditional Values.” In a few sentences, can you summarize what it’s about, and why you decided to write it?
TS: Well Dan, I was sitting around one day (and it wasn’t too long after Miley Cyrus did her dirty deed at the MTV Music Awards, which by the way is right in my neighborhood, I live only a few blocks away from all of that mess) and I got to thinking. I was really trying to come up with the first line – I always write the introduction last – and I think what I came up with really summarizes where we are as a country. And I wrote this: “I feel like a Duck Dynasty guy living in a Miley Cyrus world.”
DD: What exactly did you mean by that?
TS: It seems as though we live in a country now where right is wrong and wrong is right. And it’s as if the values that we’ve held as a country for generations have somehow been turned upside down. The things that made us the greatest country on the face of the earth are now considered to be reprehensible – are now considered to be hateful. In my travels around the country and in the columns that I write, there is one response that people seem to have: “We had no idea this was happening in our country.” And the fact of the matter is, outside of Fox News and Townhall and other like-minded organizations, there are not many people who are talking about, for lack of a better term, culture war issues.
DD: Religious liberty is a founding American principle enshrined in the Bill of Rights. And in your weekly columns, you write frequently about how religious freedom is often challenged and undermined in the public square. But in your view, is this a recent phenomenon unique to the Obama-era – or something that has been happening in America for many years now?
TS: I think it’s the proverbial “put a frog in a pot of water and slowly turn up the heat.” I think this has been an issue that has been festering – has been simmering – for years. And I believe that when President Obama got elected his administration went ahead and turned up the heat to high. It has been a boiling issue since the president took office. Over the past five years or so we have seen a massive assault on the Christian faith – not any other faith – the Christian faith. I’ve documented instances of this in the book; I write about this every day. The idea that you had a White House that somehow thought it was a good idea to ban Bibles at Walter Reed Hospital. That somehow thought it was a good idea to kick a German home school family that came here seeking asylum out of the country. They thought [those were] good ideas? This is a very disturbing pattern that has developed over the course of this president’s administration.
DD: Many millennials are convinced that traditional values are obsolete. How, then, should Christians – and those who support traditional values – engage and persuade their peers that defending, say, traditional marriage and families is not a bigoted point of view?
TS: I think that’s a great question, Dan, because that ultimately is another issue that we’re facing in this country: the rapidly declining freedom of speech we have. I’m going to be honest with you: I’m a conservative – I don’t make any bones about that – and I’m also a person of the Christian faith. But I believe that people of all religions can come here and worship their God how they choose to worship their God. And I would be willing to stand in the front door of a mosque or a synagogue or a temple and stand side-by-side with people of other faith groups to defend their right to worship God as they see fit.
But here’s the challenge. I’m not quite sure there are those on the Left – who don’t share those values – who would be willing to do the same thing for me. And that’s the disturbing thing: this idea that Christians should no longer be able to have a voice; that, for whatever reason, the values we’ve all held since the country started are now as you said “obsolete.” Where is this coming from? I don’t think moms and dads are teaching their kids that around the dinner table. I think it’s coming from the public school system. And I think that kids are being indoctrinated. These public schools have been turned into indoctrination centers that are sort of spewing this left-wing ideology that Christians are bad, Christians are evil; they don’t deserve to have a voice in the country; they need to sit down, shut up and keep their faith in their church house.
DD: For years you’ve been on the front lines of America’s culture war, traveling around and speaking to everyday Americans, especially during the course of writing your book. What are people saying on the ground about the status of religious liberty in America today? Is religious freedom something they’re deeply worried about?
TS: It really is. And for me, even though I cover this every day, sometimes even I lose sight of the fact that most Americans deeply care about these issues. And it was Rick Warren of all people – the pastor at Saddleback Church – who really gave me pause to understand how big of an issue this was. He told me, here in the Fox News building, that “religious liberty would be the civil rights issue of this generation.” This is a powerful statement.
DD: If there was one thing you want readers to take away – or understand – from your book, what would it be?
TS: There are two important things. Number one: I want them to understand what’s happening in their country. There’s a great Christian writer – and I’m going to borrow a phrase that he used: “This is the evidence that demands a verdict.” And the second part of this is: what are you going to do about it? And so I hope people pay attention because freedom of religion was our first freedom – it was the first one. And, Dan, if that one goes…
DD: The rest of them go, right?
TS: The rest of them are going to go. And they’ll go fast.