“Houses of Worship Must Be Sacrosanct—We Are Family—Respect the Religious Beliefs of Others.” This was the message a delegation of religious leaders presented to members of Congress and to a gathering of more than 100 religious leaders in Washington, D.C.
And it was this message that also drove the coalition’s protest on the doorstep of A&E Networks in New York the following day.
The multifaith coalition claims media, particularly A&E’s incendiary programming, incites violence against religions.
Acts of violence anywhere are unacceptable, say the religious leaders who traveled to Washington, D.C., and New York to make their voices heard. But violence against houses of worship are anathema.
The FBI reports last year saw the largest single-year increase in hate crimes since the 9/11 terrorist attack, with a significant spike in anti-Muslim crimes.
Americans have been rocked by shootings in churches, mosques and synagogues—places of worship set aside for peace and healing.
- Six people died and three others were wounded in the 2012 attack on a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin.
- A gunman killed nine at the Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina, in June 2015.
- 26 died and 20 were wounded when a gunman opened fire at a Sunday service at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, last year.
- A man shouting anti-Semitic slurs killed 11 in a Pittsburgh synagogue in October 2018.
Irresponsible media, tapping into this hate with false and misleading anti-religious programming, drives further acts of violence the coalition claims. They specifically target A&E Networks for exploiting this deadly trend with shows that incite violence.
In Journal of Religion and Violence, Dr. Massimo Introvigne, founder and director of the Center for Studies on New Religions (CESNUR), wrote “verbal violence by anti-cultists against groups they label as ‘cults’ may escalate into physical violence. For instance, during the ‘cult wars’ that opposed ‘cults’ and their critics in France in the late 1990s, the premises of the local branches of both the Unification Church and the Argentinian NRM [New Religious Movement] New Acropolis were bombed.”
However, these are not simply a historic footnote. Rather, they are tragic fact of life today.
Jehovah’s Witnesses congregations suffered five arson attacks on their houses of worship known as Kingdom Halls after Leah Remini promoted a segment of her Aftermath series taking aim at that faith.
Dr. Introvigne also sites Remini’s targeting of the Church of Scientology:
“That inflammatory language by anti-cultists may cause violent attacks is confirmed by a number of recent cases involving the Church of Scientology. The Church has published documents about several attacks or attempted attacks against its buildings and leaders. In Los Angeles, a man attacked the Scientology headquarters by throwing a hammer through a plate glass window and claiming he wanted to assassinate the Church’s leader, David Miscavige. In Austin, Texas, a woman crashed her car into the lobby of the local Church of Scientology. The perpetrators of both crimes claimed they had been persuaded by TV shows, particularly Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath by actress and former Scientologist Leah Remini…. Sensationalist anti-cult accounts of Scientology may also have played a role in motivating the actions of a teenager who, on January 3, 2019, entered the premises of the Church of Scientology in Sydney, Australia…. While he was being escorted out of the building, he stabbed to death one Scientologist and seriously wounded another.”
The multifaith coalition believes that by America permitting this kind of anti-religious rhetoric on its television networks, it is cutting across the country’s ability to protect and defend religious freedom abroad.
“America was founded on the belief that all men are entitled to free exercise of religion,” said Edward Parkin, International Director of Scientologists Taking Action Against Discrimination (STAND) who traveled to Washington, D.C., and New York as part of the coalition. “It is the country’s commitment to this fundamental and essential human right that has put the U.S. into a leadership position in championing religious freedom around the world. How can we demand this standard elsewhere when we tolerate such anti-religious propaganda at home? A&E network undermines religious freedom and endangers lives. It ignites violence through false and inflammatory programming. It is up to people of faith to work together to demand fair coverage that promotes respect and tolerance for members of all faiths.”