Freedom of religion is a fundamental part of the United States' democracy, and the Founding Fathers deemed it worthy of protecting the American people's right to practice and voice their deeply held religious beliefs in public and in private. However, the respect for religion in America has declined over the years. According to new research, hostility towards religion has risen exponentially.
The research, conducted by the First Liberty Institute and published in its book "Undeniable: The Hostility Towards Religion in America," states that from 2011 to 2016, attacks on religious liberty have increased by 133 percent. In the latest edition of the book, "the total number of documented incidents ... increased by over 15 percent over the past year and now includes more than 1,400 religious liberty incidents."
When findings such as these come out, some irreligious people and non-religious groups will undoubtedly cry foul, saying this truly stunning information does not amount to a serious problem and that Christians are merely trying to make themselves out to be victims. But, the First Liberty Institute does not only focus on religious liberty cases involving Christianity. The report also shows dozens of cases where there are hostile actions taken against the religious rights of adherents of Islam and Judaism. Some other groups that have been reported as victims of religious intolerance are Wiccans, Hindus, Native Americans, and Sikhs.
"To deny that religious freedom is in crisis in America is to deny the obvious," writes Kelly Shackelford, the President, CEO, and Chief Counsel of First Liberty. "And yet there are deniers. Ironically, they include those who launch the very attacks that have caused the crisis itself. The American people, however, deserve the truth."
Shackelford is right. The American people deserve to hear the truth.
Here are just a few documented examples found in the report:
Florida Refuses to Provide Kosher Meals to Inmates
United States v. Secretary, Florida Department of Corrections, No. 15-14117 (11th Cir. 2016)
Florida refused to provide kosher meals for inmates in state prisons. The United States sued Florida for violating the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act in refusing kosher diets while providing vegan and therapeutic diets. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit agreed that this was a violation and held that Florida must provide kosher meals to inmates who have sincere religious beliefs requiring such meals.
Illinois Prison Bans Inmate from Wearing Religious Medallion
Knowles v. Pfister, No. 15-1703 (7th Cir. 2016)
Gilbert Knowles was a Wiccan and an inmate in Illinois’s Pontiac Correctional Center. As a Wiccan, Knowles wanted to wear a “pentacle medallion” to “protect his body and his spirit against harm, evil entities, and negative energy.” A federal district judge refused to issue an injunction against the prison because Knowles could continue to practice his religion in other ways. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, however, reversed that decision and found that the prison was likely in violation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act for substantially burdening Knowles’s religious practice without a compelling interest.
Muslim Inmate Preventing from Having a Beard While Other Inmates Are Allowed Beards
Holt v. Hobbs, 135 S. Ct. 853 (2015)
Gregory Holt is a Muslim inmate in a prison operated by the Arkansas Department of Corrections (ADC). Because of his Muslim beliefs, Mr. Holt sought permission to maintain a short beard. ADC refused to allow Mr. Holt to have a short beard, even though ADC does allow inmates to have beards for other purposes, such as skin conditions. Mr. Holt challenged ADC’s refusal to permit him to grow a beard under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, which was designed to stop religious discrimination against prisoners. The U.S. Supreme Court held that ADC violated Mr. Holt’s rights under RLUIPA, and he may now wear a beard.
While the examples above concern the religious liberty of those incarcerated, hostility toward religious liberty can be seen in all areas of life; in the public arena, in schools, in the military, and in churches and ministries themselves. Some cases may appear to be trivial, but they are all important. There are stories of people from every faith that have faced hostility towards their views in some way. It is important that Americans stand up for the religious rights of others and fight back against religious intolerance. Whether or not one agrees or disagrees with another person's faith should not determine whether or not one supports their right to practice it. Organizations like the First Liberty Institute do the nation a great service by standing up for those who cannot stand up for themselves.
If someone is facing discrimination because of their faith, they need to speak out and seek help. That is the only way these problems can be brought to light and condemned. As Shackelford states, "[Religious hostility] succeeds only because of its own bluff and the passivity of its victims. Hostility to religion can be defeated in the culture and the legal system—but only if challenged by Americans like you. The time for denying the crisis is long past."
View the full report here.