The poll was conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute, whose website describes it as a “nonprofit, nonpartisan research and education organization dedicated to work at the intersection of religion, values, and public life.” In early April, PRRI issued a report, Chosen for What? Jewish Values in 2012: Findings from the 2012 Jewish Values Survey. This report described a wide-ranging survey of values and attitudes among American Jews, using a sample of 1,004 Jewish adults canvassed in February and March 2012 (p. 31). One part of the report addressed Jewish attitudes towards other religious groups:
Respondents were asked to rate their feelings toward certain groups on a 100-point scale, where ratings between 51 degrees and 100 degrees indicated that the respondent felt favorable and warm toward that group, while ratings between 1 degree and 49 degrees meant that the respondent did not feel favorably toward the group. Ratings of 50 degrees indicated that the respondent did not feel particularly warm or cold toward the group. (p. 18)
When asked to rate Mormons …, American Jews, on average, rated them at 47. The average rating for Muslims was somewhat lower, at 41.4. By contrast, when asked to rate the Christian Right, American Jews report an average of 20.9, a score indicating that American Jews hold considerably unfavorable feelings toward members of the Christian Right, significantly more so than towards Mormons or Muslims. (p. 19)
This finding is extremely controversial for some in the Jewish community. The Christian Right—basically, conservative Evangelical Christians—have been stalwart supporters of the state of Israel. However, as the PRRI survey shows, there is considerable distrust on the part of Jews in regard to the Christian Right. As reported in the Forward: The Jewish Daily:
“I find this shocking and concerning,” said Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, founder and president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, the first major group to engage evangelical Christians in support of Israel. Eckstein and other activists working on Jewish-evangelical relations expressed a sense of betrayal, accusing Jewish liberals of being prejudiced against Christian conservatives and of clinging to pre-conceived notions and stereotypes about evangelicals’ beliefs and goals.
Concern over these findings has been the subject of an article in The Blaze (later reposted on the Yahoo! News portal), which stated, about the PRRI survey, that “these results are sending shock-waves through some faith communities.
But why is this finding such a surprise? The fact is that the Christian Right, at the same time that it supports the political state of Israel, harbors elements that endanger religious freedom in the United States for Jews—and for everyone who is not an Evangelical Christian.
Look at the facts. Last summer, Texas Governer Rick Perry (remember him?) sponsored a national prayer event called The Response. The event was financed by the American Family Association (AFA), an Evangelical Christian group which teaches that the First Amendment freedom of religion applies only to Christians, as reported by the San Francisco Chronicle and FOX News. This notion about the First Amendment is clearly expressed by AFA-sponsored bloggers, such as Bryan Fischer.
Really! If the First Amendment protection of freedom of religion only applies to Christians, then of course Jews would be endangered. No wonder, then, that Jews would have overall a less-favorable opinion of Evangelicals, despite their support for the political state of Israel (which is, after all, a convenient ocean and continent away).
But is it only Jews who should be concerned in this way? Oh, no.
It is important to note that, for many Evangelicals, most of the people in the United States who call themselves Christians are somehow “not really Christian.” (I explain this in detail in an opinion column on the Yahoo! Contributor Network.) Catholics? Not Christians to these Evangelicals. Same with members of the Orthodox churches, the Latter-day Saints/Mormons, the Seventh-Day Adventists—basically, anyone who is not an Evangelical Christian.
Now put these two thoughts together:
a) the First Amendment freedom of religion only applies to Christians,
b) Catholics, Orthodox, Mormons, and other non-Evangelicals are not really ‘Christian,’
c) the only people to whom the First Amendment freedom of religion applies are Evangelical Christians—and nobody else!
Yes, there really are people who believe this. Millions of them. But this kind of political position is utterly unacceptable within a true democracy.
The religious beliefs of the Christian Right/Evangelical Christians are their own affair. However, concerned Americans of any political or religious stripe should make it a point to highlight their concerns about religious freedom with political candidates, particularly those of an Evangelical persuasion. Do these candidates believe that the First Amendment only applies to Christians? It is a good question to ask.
First Amendment freedoms for all in America: That is truly On The Mark™.
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(Copyright 2012 Mark E. Koltko-Rivera. All Rights Reserved.)