Thursday, February 09, 2006

 

Evangelical Christianity and the captive audience

Last summer Americans United for Separation of Church and State investigated reports of intimidation and unwelcome proselytizing of non-Christian cadets at the US Air Force Academy by evangelical students, faculty, and chaplains. Responding to protests, the Air Force issued guidelines placing restrictions on these acts. Now AU reports that a replacement set of guidelines cuts back on the earlier protections, and moreover speaks in terms of protecting the religious rights of the chaplains. Essentially the chaplains are claiming the right to proselytize the students at their institution as a matter of religious freedom—as though their right to harass others supersedes the religious rights of the students to be left alone.

Unfortunately, this is typical of what's going on in many sectors of our society. Evangelical Christian organizations are fighting to have prayer led in public schools. The federal government is funding faith-based organizations in the name of social service, and leaving those organizations free not only to witness to those they help but to make aid contingent on their receptiveness to the message. Prisoners in some correctional facilities are being required to attend openly Bible-based rehabilitation programs.

Do you see the strategy? The common elements are twofold: a captive audience (students, those in need, prisoners) and authority figures intent on making them or keeping them Christian whether they (or their parents) like it or not. The faithmongers act as if the people in their care or charge are there to serve their purposes rather than the reverse. It's nefarious, and we need to put a lid on it.

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