Wanted: A Rational Discussion About Hate Crimes Legislation

One of the Right’s rallying cries that has become increasingly pronounced in recent years is the so-called “Criminalization of Christianity” – the idea that Christians in this country are under attack by liberals, the courts, and the government and are being targeted, arrested, and imprisoned simply for living their faith.

One of the foremost advocates of this concept is Janet Folger, who has not only written a book about it, but routinely issues paranoid warnings about what is in store:

Christians have the right to remain silent, but if we remain silent very much longer those are precisely the words we are going to hear before we see the inside of a prison cell.

Of course, much like the supposed “War on Christians,” the “Criminalization of Christianity” is completely bogus as we explained in a recent memo on right-wing opposition to hate crimes legislation recently introduced in Congress:

Religious Right groups are so eager to prevent any legal recognition or protection for gay and lesbian Americans that they are waging an aggressive disinformation campaign against these legal protections. Their strategy?  Create a distraction from the reality of violent crimes by claiming that such laws are really designed to criminalize Christianity.

The campaign is, of course, dishonest to the core.  But it is part of a larger strategy that has been politically and financially useful to Religious Right leaders over the years.  They tell millions of Americans, week after week, that gay rights advocates are out to silence conservative Christians, criminalize the reading of the Bible, and force people to choose between their faith and public service. It’s not true. But it serves the radical right’s political goals: it is easier to convince Americans to support discrimination – even to oppose laws designed to discourage violent hate crimes – if you have first convinced them that their gay neighbors want to shut down their church and throw their pastor in jail for reading the Bible.

Hate crimes legislation is not targeted at any of this constitutionally protected activity.  It targets only those who commit violent crimes against persons intentionally selected because they belong to, or are perceived to belong to, certain groups in our society.

But the Right will have nothing of it.  To them, efforts to pass hate crimes legislation is nothing more than an attempt to turn all Christians in criminals.  As the Traditional Values Coalition sees it:  

“Liberal and homosexual extremists want to silence people of faith whose religious beliefs condemn homosexual behavior.  This bill effectively adds a footnoted exception to the First Amendment of the Constitution – ‘none of these protections apply to Christians or other people of faith.’

“This bill begins to lay the legal foundation and framework to investigate, prosecute and persecute pastors, business owners, and anyone else whose actions are based upon, and reflect, the truths found in the Bible.

And just in case the warning that Christianity is being criminalized wasn’t clear enough, TVC has unveiled this helpful visual aid: