A Tale Of Two Sessions: Religious Right Conferees Decry Discrimination – But Only When It Affects Them

I spent the day on Friday at Ralph Reed’s Faith & Freedom Conference and Strategy Briefing here in Washington, D.C.

The list of speakers included many presidential hopefuls, congressional leaders and Religious Right strategists who came to stir their base into action.

Much of the rhetoric was politics as usual, but an undercurrent of religious prejudice popped up all too often. The conference left me feeling fearful and concerned that out there in America, some people truly believe in this line of thought, no matter how hateful and ignorant it may be.

For example, I attended two break-out sessions in the afternoon where panels of “experts” discussed various issues.

The first was called “Fighting Anti-Christian Bigotry,” which later was changed in the program to the more neutral “Fighting Anti-Religious Bias.” However, it was clear this discussion was meant to address how Christians are “demonized” in America and how unfair it is.

The second session immediately following was called “Defeating Terrorism and Jihad.” Some members of this panel specifically propagated anti-Muslim sentiment and made discriminatory remarks against Muslim Americans.

Sitting in these sessions back to back, I couldn’t help but laugh (in disgust) at the irony and hypocrisy. In the first session, the speakers complained about how they allegedly face so much discrimination as Christians in America, and that in a free country like ours, such discrimination against a religious group is outrageous.

Tim Goeglein, vice president of Focus on the Family Action, told the 40 people or so assembled in the room that he is astonished that so many Americans are afraid to even admit they are Christian or to say “outwardly that…Jesus Christ is [their] savior.”

He cited an example in which a student at any Ivy League university came up to him after he gave a speech and whispered “I’m a Christian.” Goeglein said he was saddened that this student felt so persecuted against that she had to hide who she is to fit in.

Of course, the audience fed right into Goeglein’s pity party, gasping in disbelief and shaking their heads at the atrocity that it was.

But then, a few minutes later, when the session on terrorism and jihad began, religious discrimination was no longer quite as repugnant.

When two of the panel members – a professor from Catholic University and a gentleman from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security – tried to educate the audience that all Muslims are not terrorists, many listeners weren’t having it. (In fact, I was stunned that Reed even allowed these rational and fair-minded speakers on the panel!)

Three of the speakers, however, satisfied the audience with their anti-Muslim rhetoric. Frank Gaffney from the American Center for Security Policy made it clear that any Muslim who believes in Shariah cannot be trusted. He pushed his book Sharia: The Threat to America and disingenuously instilled fear in the audience.

Erick Stakelbeck, a correspondent for the Christian Broadcasting Network, did the same.

And Shaheryar Gill of the American Center for Law and Justice’s office in Pakistan, spoke of how he strives every day to protect Pakistani Christians from Muslim persecution. His stories served to fuel hate for all Muslims, including the Muslim Americans far away from Pakistan.

It was clear this was a heated topic for this crowd.  During the Q & A, one woman asked, “What about Obama? Why aren’t more Americans concerned about HIM being a Muslim?”

Another gentleman in the audience called for the resignation of the homeland security speaker for his position that only radical Islam is a threat. The audience vigorously applauded.

I could barely sit silent while I watched this ignorant and disgusting discussion unfold. This group, which was so appalled by alleged mistreatment of Christians, then turned around and mistreated another faith group in an even worse manner.

To most of us, the hypocrisy is obvious. But of course, the Religious Right has an answer for everything.

“We’re the majority,” said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, during the “Fighting Anti-Christian Bigotry” panel. “We shouldn’t be facing ANY discrimination.”

Everyone else, though, should expect to be treated like second-class citizens.

For a full report on the Ralph Reed extravaganza, check out the July/August issue of Church & State.