Survey Documents ‘Religious Hostility’ Across America

By Jon Street | September 10, 2012 | 6:28 AM EDT

(AP Photo)

( – A valedictorian denied the right to pray at her high school graduation; a directive that a campus Christian group may not require its leaders to be Christian; senior citizens ordered by city officials to stop praying before their meals; and the U.S. government telling religious institutions they must provide insurance coverage for abortifacients:

Those are just a few examples of “religious hostility” documented in a survey released by the conservative Family Research Council and the Liberty Institute.

The survey found that attacks on Americans’ religious freedoms have dramatically increased, both in frequency and in the types of incidents.

The list includes more than 600 examples of attacks on religion that are "turning the First Amendment upside down.”

"America today would be unrecognizable to our Founders," said Liberty Institute President and CEO Kelly Shackelford. "Our First Liberty is facing a relentless onslaught from well-funded and aggressive groups and individuals who are using the courts, Congress, and the vast federal bureaucracy to suppress and limit religious freedom. This radicalized minority is driven by an anti-religious ideology that is turning the First Amendment upside down.”

Family Research Council President Tony Perkins said the survey, although troubling, could also be motivational: "The secularists' agenda only advances when those who love liberty are apathetic. Let this be a call to stand for religious liberty in the United States."

The survey cited controversies in both public buildings and at monuments across the country. Twenty-five of the "most severe" cases are listed on the Family Research Council's website, along with a map showing the states involved.

“There is really no place you can go in America to avoid these chilling attacks—every community and every age group is affected,” Shackelford said. “We have hundreds of examples. It’s more prolific than we’ve ever seen in the history of our country.”

The survey also explains the outcome of each case, including the four mentioned above:

-- Angela Hildenbrand, the valedictorian at Medina Valley High School in Texas, wanted to say a prayer during her graduation ceremony, but an agnostic family filed a lawsuit to block her from doing so. A federal district court judge issued an order prohibiting Hildenbrand from using words such as "Lord," "in Jesus' name," and "amen." The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed the ruling and allowed the prayer. On June 6, 2011, Hildenbrand gave her speech, which included a prayer.

-- Senior citizens in Balch Springs, Texas, were told to stop praying before their meals, listening to inspirational religious messages, and singing gospel songs in their senior citizens' center because of a new city policy banning religion in public buildings. The citizens sued to defend their right to religious freedom. The seniors were told that if they won their lawsuit, their meals would be taken away since praying over government-funded meals violates the "separation of church and state." The Department of Justice also opened an investigation.

-- The University of California's Hastings College of Law in San Francisco prohibited the campus' chapter of the Christian Legal Society from requiring that leaders of the Christian organization be Christian. When the Christian Legal Society stood by its requirement that its leaders be Christian, the school derecognized the chapter. The CLS chapter sued the school but two courts sided with the school. In January 2010, the Supreme Court agreed to intervene in the case and it ended up affirming the lower-court decisions.

-- Geneva College, a Presbyterian college in Pa., in February 2012 filed suit over an ObamaCare requirement to provide insurance coverage for abortifacients, which would be in violation of the school's religious beliefs. The college claims these requirements violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the First and Fifth Amendment, and the Administrative Procedures Act.

The Survey of Religious Hostility in America was launched in 2004, when Liberty Institute’s Shackelford and others testified before the U.S. Senate about growing religious hostility in America. Because the opposition insisted that the examples they provided were simply isolated incidents, Sens. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas) asked Liberty Institute to provide additional information.

The Liberty Institute is a nonprofit law firm "dedicated to defending and restoring religious liberty across America."

The Family Research Council (FRC) advances faith, family and freedom in public policy and public opinion.