Religion Today

Sunday, February 18, 2018

The Surprises About Anti-Religious Crime in America

February 14, 2018

By Paul V.M. Flesher

The FBI collects statistics about hate crimes in the United States. These are crimes that were motivated by hatred against the victims -- whether a hatred of their race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation. A look at the information from 2016, the most recent year available, reveals a number of surprises, especially about hate crime directed at religions and religious people.
The first surprise is that there are so few crimes motivated by hatred of a particular religion. For 2016, only 1,273 such crimes were reported to the FBI by police departments around the nation. For a country of 323 million people, that is quite low.
Let’s put that number in perspective. Crime is reported as a rate per 100,000 people. In 2016, the national violent crime rate was 386 crimes per 100,000 people, while the national property crime rate was 2,450 per 100,000 people. Anti-religious crime of all types was only 0.39 per 100,000 people.
            Now, it is known that hate crime figures are underreported. But, even if they were underreported by 1,000 percent, the crime rate would be only about 4 per 100,000 people. When compared to the property crime rate of 2,450 per 100,000 individuals, it is clear that there is no epidemic of anti-religious crime; however, such individual incidents may be featured in the media.
The second surprise is that anti-religious crime does not make a large percentage of hate crimes. Anti-religious hate crimes represent only 21 percent of all hate crimes in the USA. Most hate crimes are inspired by racial or ethnic hatred.
The third surprise is that, despite regular media reports about the vandalism of synagogues, mosques and even churches (especially black churches), religious institutions are not the most frequent target of anti-religious crimes. People are the most common target. Individuals and their family homes were assaulted in 51 percent of the 1,273 anti-religious crimes reported. Businesses were the second-highest target at 11 percent, while religious institutions comprised just 9 percent of the crimes.
The fourth surprise is that, despite the claims we hear in the media about Christians suffering anti-Christian bias, Christians are not frequently the targets of anti-religion hate crimes. Of the 1,584 victims of anti-religious attacks, Jews and Jewish institutions constitute more than half of the victims, 54 percent. And, despite all the anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric, in 2016, Muslims were the victims of only 24 percent of anti-religious crimes. Christians and their churches were victims of anti-religious hate crimes in only 11 percent of the incidents.
The focus on Jews and Jewish institutions as targets indicates the continued presence of Christian-based anti-Semitism within our country. The fewer anti-Muslim crimes suggest that the anti-Muslim fervor has not caught on as thoroughly at this point. The few anti-Christian crimes are most likely Christian-on-Christian crimes: Think white Christians against black Christians and their churches, or attacks on Mormon or Jehovah Witness missionaries going door to door.
The fifth surprise is that anti-religious crimes usually aim to intimidate rather than injure. Most crimes against individuals do not even rise to the level of violent crimes; 87 percent of them are simple assault or (verbal) intimidation. With regard to crimes against property, most (86 percent) are vandalism, property damage and occasional destruction -- again, intimidation rather than theft.The one exception to this characterization is that 13 percent of anti-Muslim crime is aggravated assault, far more than against victims of any other religion.

The take-away point is that anti-religious crime is quite uncommon in the United States, despite sensationalist media reports. Individuals and their homes are the most common victims of these crimes, and the vast majority of the victims are Jewish or Muslims. Christians make up a small minority of the victims of anti-religious attacks.

Note: Thanks to Cameron Walker, of the Laramie Boomerang, whose recent column on hate crimes inspired this analysis.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Religion in American History

January 18, 2018

By Paul V.M. Flesher

In a recent survey, college seniors were asked questions from a high school-level test on American history. Over 75 percent scored a D or below!
While the disappointment expressed by history professors, politicians and the media over the students’ performance is certainly justified, it was the questions on the test that I found most disappointing. Despite this country’s proud religious heritage and the influence of religion at nearly every stage of our history, none of the questions asked about religion. It was as if religion had been dropped from the curriculum. So, although the survey showed that students have forgotten the names, dates and places of American history, they were never expected to know the importance of religion in shaping our country.
How did our education system arrive in this situation? It all boils down to the separation of church and state. In the early part of the 20th century, the boundaries between church and state were not clearly defined with regard to schools. All across America, school systems had a variety of relationships to local churches and religious practice. Aspects of American religious history were taught in various degrees of detail.
Then, following the end of World War II, uncertainties began to arise concerning the appropriateness of the intertwining of churches and schools. The doubts continued into the 1960s when the Supreme Court ruled that schools were permitted to teach ABOUT religion(s), but they were not permitted to teach religion, i.e., to indoctrinate. Thus, the court approved teaching of the role of religion in American history.
So, it would seem that the matter had been resolved. But, not so. The Supreme Court’s ruling that banned teacher-led school prayer ushered in an era of litigation over religion in schools, which has continued to this day. Although the controversy focuses on religious prayer, it has spilled over into instruction about religion. 
The fear of legal action has led schools to “sanitize” their curriculum, to take mention of religion out of the curriculum. This has not been from any fear of religion, but from the fear of being sued and the tremendous costs that suits entail. School district budgets are stretched as it is, without having to find several million dollars for legal expenses. The victory granting the ability to teach students about this country’s religious heritage has been squandered by the political controversy over school prayer.
So, what kinds of questions should high school students, college students and we “lifelong learners” be able to answer about religion in our country’s past? Here are three true/false questions you can test yourself on:
1. The Puritans believed that everyone in America should have the freedom to follow any religion and to worship in any way they chose.
2. At the time of the American Revolution and the founding of the American republic, Baptists strongly supported the separation of church and state.
3. In the slavery debate preceding the Civil War, the Bible’s explicit statements about slaves supported the pro-slavery position best. 

Check the answers below, and see if you don’t agree that religion’s role in shaping American culture and history needs more emphasis at all levels of learning, from our elementary schools to our senior citizens. 
1. False -- Puritans were interested in freedom of religion for themselves only. It was Roger Williams, Rhode Island’s founder, who promoted religious freedom for all.
2. True -- Historically, Baptists have been some of the strongest believers in the separation of church and state.

3. True -- The Bible never explicitly condemns slavery; its statements assume that slavery is a normal part of society.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,