“Why doesn’t FFRF ever go after Muslims?”

Todd Starnes, America’s leading purveyor of the Christian persecution complex, has advanced this argument. At the end of an article about a public school in Maryland that supposedly indoctrinated children into Islam, Starnes writes:

Why hasn’t the Freedom From Religion Foundation weighed in? What about the American Civil Liberties Union? Their silence is peculiar. I suspect their reaction would have been a bit different had La Plata High School been baptizing children and forcing them to memorize John 3:16.

From a practical standpoint, the answer to this question was easy. FFRF acts on complaints from our members or members of the public, and no one had complained to us about this situation until it was already a lawsuit. But that is not the point Starnes wanted to make. He sought to make us appear biased and paint us as anti-Christian, rather than pro-separation of state and church.

FFRF in fact does take issue with the government promoting or favoring any religion, of course including Islam. Groups seeking to uphold the Constitution may appear to “target” Christians only because we “target” the violators. As the majority, Christians are simply more likely to violate the Constitution.

Pew Research numbers reveal that the U.S. Muslim population is at 1 percent, Jewish at 1.8 percent and Hindu at .7 percent. In contrast, self-identified Christians are at 70.6 percent

FFRF accordingly receives very few complaints about Muslim violations. We receive very few complaints about Jewish, Hindu, Wiccan or other minority religious entanglements with government, either. When FFRF receives any bona fide complaint about any Establishment Clause violation, we research it and try to take action, depending on the facts and the legal precedent.

This is not just a question of numbers. Of course, the greater proportion of Christians in the population means there is a higher probability any given malefactor is Christian. But in a democracy, where government is structured so that majority rules on certain issues, it is usually the majority that will violate the rights of the minority. In fact, this is precisely why the Bill of Rights exists: to protect the minority from the tyranny of the majority.

Put another way, atheists, agnostics, freethinkers and minority religions in this country have never had the unwarranted privilege Christians have asserted as members of the majority. Christian persecution is not the problem in America; Christian privilege is.

There’s one other reason why FFRF doesn’t immediately pursue every claim that a Christian has had some other religion imposed on them. Those stories are often “alternative facts.” And Todd Starnes is part of the reason why they’re often wrong. Starnes is the boy who cries wolf. He constantly tells stories of Christian persecution that are exaggerated or invented. And that’s what was going on in the Maryland case. The complaint alleged that the school promoted Islam by “requiring students to profess the five pillars of Islam and to write out faith statements of the religion.” But there is a difference between teaching about a religion and preaching a religion as divine truth. There is a difference between education and indoctrination. The teacher may have crossed that line when explaining Islam to students. Interestingly, Starnes is quick to see indoctrination when it’s not his religion being promoted.

Here at FFRF, we prefer to work with schools to determine what actually happened in a given case and to resolve these issues without going to court whenever possible. But when your goal is to further a Christian persecution narrative instead of upholding the Constitution, facts are irrelevant.

By the way, FFRF doesn’t consider that we “go after” anyone of any religion. We “go after” violations of the Establishment Clause. We work to uphold a valued constitutional principle. But we are pleased to provide examples of some of the types of violations involving minority religions that we have taken action against. They include:

  • The Muslim college professor we challenged for promoting his personal religion in the classroom. FFRF sent out a press release on this complete with audio clips and PowerPoint slides, to Starnes’ Fox News buddies but he didn’t report on it.)
  • Our protests of a Buddhist shrine on public land in California.
  • Letters to the mayors of Philadelphia and Dallas for hosting Iftar events to honor Ramadan, or to public libraries that planned on closing for the Dalai Lama.
  • Our complaint about prayer “rooms” in a New Jersey school where Muslim students were dismissed from instruction to pray, clearing up the confusion on the law regarding accommodating religious students, including Muslims, in public schools like those in Frisco, Texas
  • Our notice to a Brooklyn school that their play, which emphasized Islam and the importance of having faith especially during difficult times (to be performed in front of elementary school students), was unconstitutional.

FFRF Co-President Dan Barker has debated several Muslims as well as Christian proponents. We’ve given prominent critics of Islam, such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Taslima Nasrin, awards for their intellect and bravery. FFRF’s charitable arm, Nonbelief Relief, has allocated tens of thousands of dollars to help nonreligious Bangladeshi bloggers who have been threatened because of their views to relocate. We would shudder at the prospect of our nation “under Allah” or the Quran, just as we work against basing our secular laws on the bible and its deity. The Religious Right that claims Muslim violations are ignored in fact wants FFRF to ignore violations involving imposition of its deity and its “holy book.” We believe a secular government is the only path to peace and true religious liberty, and that means our government may not endorse or promote any religion.

FFRF opposes Shariah, the imposition of Islamic law, just as we oppose the imposition of Christian doctrine or Orthodox Jewish dogma in our secular laws. In the United States, we fortunately do not need to pass a special law against Shariah because we already have one: the First Amendment, which bars any governmental establishment of religion, whether Muslim, Jewish or Christian.

— Written by Andrew L. Seidel, with contributions from Annie Laurie Gaylor © FFRF, 2017

Freedom From Religion Foundation