Religion, once a cornerstone of society in virtually every culture, is being eroded in modern times.
Attacks on religious freedom in the U.S. have more than doubled since 2011 according to a recent report by First Liberty Institute. “This past year has seen the continuation of high-profile attacks on religious liberty in the public arena as people of faith have been fired, refused employment, or fined for practicing their faith or speaking out about their religious beliefs,” it reads.
Until recent years, America had come a long way as a result of ongoing civil rights movements. According to the Pew Research Center, “as recently as the late 1980s, a bona fide majority of Americans thought school administrators should have the right to fire teachers simply for being homosexual; that figure has since dwindled to little more than a fifth. In 1983, a full half of Americans opposed interracial marriage; today, only a fraction of the nation’s adults hold the same view.” America’s attack on intolerance and discrimination was something to be proud of.
But our relative peace and tolerance is rapidly degrading again. Why is society backsliding into bigotry?
Discrimination is not new. The U.S. was founded on principles of tolerance in response to centuries of religious warfare. The Founding Fathers envisioned the nascent country as “an asylum to the persecuted and oppressed of every nation and religion,” but Americans were slow to absolve themselves of their violent past.
Anti-Catholic violence raged throughout the 19th century, while simultaneously members of the newly founded Mormon church were met with massacre and even expulsion from the state of Missouri.
A few years before the U.S. entered World War II, anti-Semitic hatred thrived on American soil as religious and political public figures propagated distrust and bigotry toward Jewish refugees.
But beginning in the 1960s, Americans experienced a spiritual and cultural revolution amidst the turmoil of the Vietnam War and the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr.
The 1960s and 70s saw the emergence of the Peace movement, the Free Speech movement, an exploration of Buddhist, Hindu and Islamic beliefs, the birth of New Age spiritualism, and the explosive growth of the Church of Scientology.
Americans have fond memories of the 1980s and 1990s as decades marked by prosperity and increased equality for racial, religious and LGBT minorities. But this period of relative peace and tolerance was short-lived.
The American way of life fundamentally changed on September 11th, 2001 when the effects of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon reverberated across the world.
The immediate aftermath of 9/11 ushered in the era of the War on Terror, ongoing conflict in the Middle East, increased surveillance, eroded civil liberties, increased deportation and the rise of bigotry and hate crimes against Muslims.
And although it has been nearly two decades since 9/11, we are experiencing an alarming resurgence of religious hate crimes within the last year.
Hate crimes against American Muslims have risen to their highest levels since the fallout of 9/11. A 2017 report found that hate crimes against minority religions spiked 86% over the last 12 months.
So why is our society devolving into a tangle of bigotry and hate the likes of which we haven’t seen since the anti-Semitism leading up to World War II?
Well, I would argue that religious intolerance never left. It has just shifted its sights onto new targets, as has happened countless times throughout history whenever a new belief system emerges.
Scientologists can empathize with Muslims as fellow targets of modern-day religious discrimination. Although the Political Correctness movement has urged Americans to be tolerant of racial, religious and LGBTQ minorities, it remains disturbingly acceptable in many social spheres to publicly denigrate Muslims and Scientologists for their religious beliefs.
While civil rights and social justice movements made great strides from the 1960s to the 1990s, Scientology was under near-constant attack, although you might not have read about it in the news.
A Canadian Supreme Court Judge found in 1985 that “…since 1950 there has been a definite campaign of harassment against this organization [the Church of Scientology] for nearly thirty years, primarily by means of the dissemination of false and derogatory information around the world to create a climate in which adverse action would be taken against the Church and its members.”
In 1996, a man set fire to the lobby of a Scientology church in Portland, Oregon, shooting four religious workers, one of whom was pregnant. In 2001, a man was convicted for planting a bomb inside the Church of Scientology in Angers. In 2008, as a result of hatemongering by the cyberterrorist group Anonymous, hundreds of violent threats, including death threats and bomb threats, were directed toward members of the Church. In 2015 a woman drove her car through the front door of a Church of Scientology in Austin, Texas, nearly hitting two staff members and a children’s nursery. These are just a few examples of hate crimes leveled against Scientologists.
Why is our society okay with this? Although we are far from equality in this country, at least the court of public opinion attempts to hold bigots accountable for racism, social justice groups speak out against sexism and homophobia/transphobia and hate crimes against religious groups are documented and reported on.
But where are all the news articles condemning the religious bigotry against Scientology?
As I’ve said before, there is a systematic campaign of anti-Scientology propaganda infesting our media and seeking to influence public opinion.
Renowned sociologist Dr. Massimo Introvigne of the Center for Studies on New Religions calls this phenomenon the “algorithm of anti-cult terrorism.” It starts with dehumanization, a technique mastered by the Nazis. Putting the “cult” label on an organization, he claims, is like putting the yellow star on members of the Jewish faith. Dehumanizing, what he describes as “trying to show that you are not completely a human being,” can in turn lead to a climate where the group and its individuals are exposed to further actions, outright attacks, and even violence.
We as Americans are backsliding into bigotry, and it will take a concerted effort on everyone’s part to recognize the mainstream media’s fear-mongering for what it is: an attempt to distract, divide and dehumanize us—all in the name of profit.