by Jorge Gomez and Mia Gradick, Contributing Writers • 5 min read
As Americans, we often think that persecution and government crackdowns against religious communities only occur in repressive, totalitarian nations, like China or North Korea–places too far away to affect our own freedoms here at home.
That could never happen here in the United States, we say to ourselves. After all, we are the land of the free, home of brave, protected by the First Amendment and our Constitution! Plus, our country was founded on the very principle of “free exercise” of our religious beliefs, which is precisely the reason many of America’s first settlers came to these shores in the first place.
But it’s becoming increasingly clear that the wave of hate and hostility to religion and faith isn’t just happening in repressive and totalitarian nations.
Shocking images of persecution and religious intolerance (like the one below of a Christian church in China being dynamited to the ground just a couple of years ago) were once thought to only happen in distant places.
*Photo courtesy of the New York Times.
Religious hostility comes with consequences.
We must stand together to stop the All Out assault, or we’ll end up paying the price and losing our cherished constitutional freedoms.
Now, frighteningly similar images–like the 5 below–are starting to appear with regularity across our country today. Let’s take a closer look at each of them:
* Photo courtesy of Fox Carolina News
Just several days ago, someone set fire to the plastic flowers that were in the hands of the Virgin Mary statue located in Saint Peter Parish Church, causing the face and upper body of the statue to be burned.
Where did this horrific defacement of a religious symbol take place? Not in China, or North Korea…but right here in America, in the city of Boston, MA.
* Photo courtesy of USA Today
In mid-July, the historic Catholic San Gabriel Mission Church in Los Angeles County was set to flames, in what police investigators are considering could be an arson. Shockingly, this was the fourth church burning in recent weeks, all of which have occurred in missions established across California by Junipero Serra during the era of Spanish colonization.
* Photo courtesy of The Washington Post
First Pentecostal Church in Holly Springs, MS, was in the process of shifting back to in-person services, but was burned down in late May what appeared to be an arson fire. Amidst the ruins, investigators found a spray-painted graffiti message: “I bet you stay home now, you hypocrites.” Evidence also shows an atomic symbol with an “A” in the center near the graffiti, commonly used as a logo for atheist or anarchy groups.
What’s worse is that it seems like religious intolerance is nothing new in Holly Springs. Almost 10 years ago, First Liberty won a case in Holly Springs for Opulent Life Church, who sought to rent a larger space for their church and was unjustly denied by discriminatory zoning ordinances.
* Photo courtesy of The New York Times
Last year, three Baptist churches in Louisiana were set on fire over a 10-day period.
During his plea hearing, the suspect accused of the church arsons admitted he’d targeted these buildings because of their religious character. He stated that he was copying similar crimes committed in Norway in the 1990s in an attempt to elevate his status among the heavy metal community, whose most extreme practitioners engaged in church burning, vandalism and killings.
* Photo Courtesy of Los Angeles Daily News
Rabbi Netanel Louie leads the Hebrew Discovery Center, a small Orthodox Jewish synagogue in Los Angeles county that has endured multiple acts of violence. Last year, in the middle of the night a vandal threw a can of white paint at the synagogue, defacing the front entrance.
First Liberty won a lawsuit last year on behalf of the Rabbi for reporting a suspected vandal to the police when the synagogue was attacked by a group of people in 2016. Incredibly, the vandal sued him for calling the police!
It’s true that in America we do not have the same scale of physical violence, unrest and restrictions as seen in very repressive nations. At least, not yet.
But we’re beginning to see some of the ugly consequences that come from a growing and increasing All Out war on faith and religious freedom.
The rising animosity and hostility against people of faith in our nation is undeniable. When we see religious communities, churches and synagogues become the targets of appalling attacks, destruction and blazing fires—this is one of the first warning signs that our country is facing the threat of religious oppression and tyranny.