Robert Boston in Salon:
Certain words should not be tossed around lightly. Persecution is one of those words. Religious right leaders and their followers often claim that they are being persecuted in the United States. They should watch their words carefully. Their claims are offensive; they don’t know the first thing about persecution. One doesn’t have to look far to find examples of real religious persecution in the world. In some countries, people can be imprisoned, beaten, or even killed because of what they believe. Certain religious groups are illegal and denied the right to meet. This is real persecution. By contrast, being offended because a clerk in a discount store said “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” pales. Only the most confused mind would equate the two. We have worked hard in the United States to find the right balance concerning religious-freedom matters. Despite what the religious right would have Americans believe, this is not an issue that our culture and legal systems take lightly. Claims of a violation of religious freedom are usually taken very seriously. An entire body of law has evolved in the courts to protect this right. The right of conscience is, appropriately, considered precious and inviolable to Americans.
Far from being persecuted, houses of worship and the religious denominations that sponsor them enjoy great liberty in America. Their activities are subjected to very little government regulation. They are often exempt from laws that other groups must follow. The government bends over backward to avoid interfering in the internal matters of religious groups and does so only in the most extreme cases. What the religious right labels “persecution” is something else entirely: it is the natural pushback that occurs when any one sectarian group goes too far in trying to control the lives of others. Americans are more than happy to allow religious organizations to tend to their own matters and make their own decisions about internal governance. When those religious groups overstep their bounds and demand that people who don’t even subscribe to their beliefs follow their rigid theology, that is another matter entirely. Before I delve into this a little more, it would be helpful to step back and take a look at the state of religious liberty in the United States today. Far from being persecuted, I would assert that religion’s position is one of extreme privilege. Consider the following points.