Note: Talking “Religious, Superstitious Nonsense” in the Classroom: When Do Teachers’ Disparaging Comments About Religion Run Afoul of the Establishment Clause?

Jennifer L. Bryant
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86 S. Cal. L. Rev. 1343

A sizable contingent of Christians in America are profoundly anxious, not only because of a fear that Christianity is losing its grip on the culture, but also because of a perception that religious faith has become an acceptable target for scorn and ridicule. This anxiety, though ever present, inevitably intensifies whenever the religious right is dealt a political setback. Predictably, then, the rhetoric of religious victimhood began to escalate after Barack Obama won the presidency. America, it would seem, is now embattled in a full-fledged “war on Christianity.” These feelings stem in part from the rapidly changing religious landscape. The ranks of the religiously unaffiliated have been steadily swelling in recent years. In 2012 Pew found that one-fifth of Americans—and one-third of those under thirty—claim no religious affiliation, a marked increase from just five years earlier.

But the alarmist rhetoric nevertheless strikes many as unjustified and even a little silly. For one thing, President Obama has, of course, spoken about his personal Christian faith on more than one occasion. A man who publicly testifies that Jesus Christ has died for his sins makes for a curious leader in a crusade against Christianity. In addition, almost 75 percent of Americans still identify as Christians and the ranks of atheists and agnostics, though increasing, are still rather negligible. Unsurprisingly, then, many find it difficult to get behind the notion that religion in general or Christianity in particular is under legitimate attack. When voiced against a backdrop of two centuries of uninterrupted representation at the highest levels of government, the grievances of the supposedly victimized Christian majority are hard to take seriously. As a result, the gripes from religious conservatives often spur a self-fulfilling and even self-exacerbating cycle, as the complaints themselves become sources of ridicule and the feelings of victimization redouble. But while the popular discourse is dominated by a back and forth between hyperbolic bombast on one side and bewildered scoffing on the other, religious persecution is, of course, no laughing matter. Moreover, what “may seem [like] silly or wrong-headed” sensitivity to some is a deeply felt, “sincerely held . . . belief” to others. [MORE]