Raymond Raines and the Religious Right: The Myth That Will Not Die

Yesterday Kelly Shackelford of Liberty Institute and Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council released a new website and joint report entitled "The Survey on Religious Hostility in America" which is billed as "collection of more than 600 cases, detailing religious bigotry throughout America."

And you can tell from the introduction just how trustworthy this report truly is:

The Obama administration no longer even speaks of freedom of religion; now it is only “freedom of worship.” This radical departure is one that threatens to make true religious liberty vulnerable, conditional, and limited. As some have said, it is a freedom “only within four walls.” That is, you are free to worship within the four walls of your home, church, or synagogue, but when you enter the public square the message is, “leave your religion at home.” President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have repeatedly echoed this same message in international forums, acknowledging only a right to the “freedom of worship.” This is no accident, and it has huge ramifications.

This claim that Obama is systematically undermining "freedom of religion" seems to be one of the Religious Right's favorite claims ... which, of course, means that it is not true at all.

The report itself consists of 100+ pages of  short descriptions of seemingly every court case along with the various urban legends that the Religious Right trots out whenever they are trying to play the victim.  In fact, this one from the Executive Summary caught my eye:

A public school official physically lifted an elementary school student from his seat and reprimanded him in front of his classmates for praying over his lunch.

That sounded a lot like the story of Raymond Raines and, sure enough, on page 74 we find this:

Elementary School Student Punished for Praying Before Meals
Joan Little, “City Schools Issue Rules About Students, Religion,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 11, 1996, at 2B

Elementary school student Raymond Raines was “caught” praying over his meal at his elementary school. He was lifted from his seat and reprimanded in front of all the other students, then taken to the principal who ordered him to cease praying in school.

As we noted just a few months ago, this myth has been around since 1994 when Newt Gingrich and various Religious Right leaders first started making Raymond's sorry tale the centerpiece of their campaign to pass a constitutional amendment protecting the right to expressions of faith ... despite the fact that it wasn't true:

The St. Louis case concerned 10-year-old Raymond Raines who, his mother said, was given detention because he sought to pray over his lunch. When lawyers for the Rutherford Institute heard about the case, they filed a lawsuit against the principal and issued a press release denouncing the school system.

"I know it sounds bizarre, but we have substantial evidence to believe it happened," said Timothy Belz, the St. Louis lawyer working with the Rutherford Institute.

On NBC-TV's "Meet the Press," Gingrich described the situation as "a real case about a real child. Should it be possible for the government to punish you if you say grace over your lunch? That's what we used to think of Russian behavior when they were the Soviet Union."

But school officials said the incident never happened. Rather, they said, Raymond was disciplined for fighting in the cafeteria.

"I can tell you he was not reprimanded for praying," said Kenneth Brostron, the school's lawyer. "Do you think it makes sense that the teachers would look around the cafeteria and target the one student who was praying quietly at his seat?"

This incident took place nearly twenty years ago and the Religious Right is still citing it today as proof that Christianity is under attack in America despite the fact that it never happened.