Video: Is Christianity under attack?

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updated 3/30/2006 10:55:31 AM ET 2006-03-30T15:55:31

Evangelical Christians met up for a Washington event called War on Christians and the Values Voters of 2006 this week.  Speakers gave impassioned testimonies about Christian persecution across the country. 

At the event, Tom DeLay had this to say,  

"We are, after all, a society that abides abortion on demand, has killed millions of innocent children, degrades the institution of marriage and often treats Christianity like some second-rate superstition.  Seen from this perspective of course there is a war on Christianity."

Chris Matthews discussed this with Al Sharpton, a former presidential candidate and the president of National Action Network, and Tony Perkins is president of the Family Research Council. 

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST, "HARDBALL": Tony, do you believe that Christianity is under active assault politically right now? 

TONY PERKINS, PRESIDENT, FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL:  It's not just me, Chris.  A poll by the anti-defamation league end of last year, 64 percent of Americans say religion in America is under attack.  Eighty percent of evangelicals agree that religion in this country, in particular, Christianity, is under attack. 

MATTHEWS:  What are the specifics of that charge? 

PERKINS:  Well, clearly, it's not a war on Christianity like we talked about last week with Abdul Rahman and what he was under, but it's a hostility nonetheless.  I mean, just last week in San Francisco, 25,000 young evangelicals gathered there for a rally, and the board of supervisors passed a resolution. 

It's first time I've ever seen a legislature pass a resolution condemning them as a right-wing Christian fundamentalist group that spreads hate.  That was the official language.  I mean, you see that.  You see Indiana were the legislature there no longer allowed to open their sessions in prayer, if they pray in the name of Jesus. 

I mean, you ask any parent if America today, they're concerned.  Their kids cannot pray in school, graduations, football games, no prayer, even the pledge. 

MATTHEWS:  But those are court decisions, aren't they? 

PERKINS:  They are court decisions, but nonetheless it is a branch of government and most of the time spurred on by the ACLU, that many times is funded with taxpayer dollars. 

MATTHEWS:  Reverend Sharpton, do you think that Christianity and religion as such are under attack by our secular institutions? 

REV. AL SHARPTON, NATIONAL ACTION NETWORK:  I think there's a difference when you say that polls say religion is under attack and saying Christianity is under attack and then acting as if Christianity and the right-wing are synonymous.  I think that the right wing has got Christianity under attack or Christianity that was the basis of the Civil Rights Movement and the anti-war movement. 

It's certainly not the Christianity that they are talking about.  So I think that we've got to really narrow in what we're talking about, and to say that someone stops a prayer that makes others that may pray a different way feel like they're being imposed upon and then to act like the symbol of Christianity is Tom DeLay is a great leap.  And I think that is where many of us that are Christian are offended by this group trying to misuse these kinds of situations. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe, Tony, that you feel under attack?  Or is this a clever marketing tool?

PERKINS:  No.

MATTHEWS:  You know, if you say circle the wagons to anybody, that's a great way to get them rallied, that's a way to get them juiced up, and they may vote more frequently.  They may get out there and vote, where if they don't feel under attack they're not going to vote.  It's human nature. 

PERKINS:  Well, one writer criticizing this claim of Christians being under attack said there are no Christians today being thrown to the lions.  Well, I agree, there's none being thrown to the lions today, but I'm not for allowing those cubs to grow up to become adult lions.  And that's what we're talking about is addressing these issues.

And the Reverend Sharpton is incorrect.  It is Christianity that is the target.  The county of Los Angeles, the seal taken to a court case by the ACLU.  They had to remove the cross from the top of the mission that is part of the emblem of the city.  It is Christianity. 

SHARPTON:  But that is not because they're attacking the cross.  They're saying that there are those citizens that don't believe in the cross.  And I would have that position if there was a different religious symbol in a city that I lived in and paid taxes.

But I would like Tony to tell me how what Tom DeLay is facing has anything to do with his religion or any religion at all.  I mean, I think it's an insult to Christians to act like because of his religion, he's been charged with what he's been charged with.  It has nothing to do with his religion. 

PERKINS:  I don't think anybody ever said that, Al. 

SHARPTON:  I think everyone said that at this meeting this weekend that was cited when we came on.  He was introduced as a man that was being persecuted because he stood up for Jesus.  Tell me how Jesus and being accused of embezzling funds is the same thing.  What chapter did you get that out of the New Testament? 

PERKINS:  What you find is that just in this case or whatever, there is a concern that those that identify with evangelical Christianity, and Tom DeLay was very closely affiliated with that as the House majority leader.  And there are those that say that was part of the motivation for going after him because he was an effective leader, in particular on issues as related to pro-life.

But on the issue of where Americans feel the country is moving, clearly there is a growing hostility toward Christianity.  I mean, think back when FDR was president, and he led the nation in prayer from the White House.  If President Bush were to do that today, before I could get back to my office I would be run over by ACLU attorneys on their way to file suit in federal court.

MATTHEWS:  Well, you know, that is a legitimate issue.  I mean, how religious of a life do we want in our public square?  And we are going to be debating this as long as anybody watching, Al, lives and probably for another hundred centuries after that because it is a legitimate debate, in a free society how much religion you have in the public square.

I don't think most people care about creche scenes in front of public libraries, but some people do, and we're going to debate this, right?

PERKINS:  But shouldn't it be a fair debate?

MATTHEWS:  Because it could get out of hand.

PERKINS:  I agree.

MATTHEWS:  If every kid in school is forced to read the King James Bible, they might feel a little bit out of it.

PERKINS:  But nobody is calling for that.  What you have today is you simply have people wanting to display their faith publicly, and it's not being decided through the legislative branches of government.  It's being driven by the ACLU through the courts with the people having no voice in it.  That's what causes conflicts.

MATTHEWS:  So you want to identify with Rick Scarborough's, Reverend Rick Scarborough's claim that the reason Tom DeLay is in trouble with the courts, with the Democrats, with the media, is because he's a Christian.  Are you going to identify with that argument?

PERKINS:  I would not say that in total.

MATTHEWS:  But he did.

PERKINS:  I'm just saying that I think that that has made him a target.

MATTHEWS:  It has? His religion?

PERKINS:  I think it has. The fact that he has been so out front on many of these issues.  Now in terms of his legal problems or what he's facing today, those stand on their own. 

MATTHEWS: Is Abramoff in trouble because of his religion? He just got five years and 10 months today.

PERKINS:  No, and he's pleaded guilty to committing crimes.  Tom DeLay has not been convicted of anything, nor has he said.

MATTHEWS:  Last word, Reverend.

SHARPTON:  I think that it clearly is a misuse of those of us that believe in something to act as though a man who has operated to the extreme right, who has tried to redistrict people of color out of office in Texas, is operating as some Christian missionary.

PERKINS:  Red herring.

SHARPTON:  I think that it is absolutely insulting to the intelligence of Christians.  You're not going to meet anyone that believes in Christ more than me, but I believe in converting people, not forcing people to following my religion.  We are living in what we want to be a democracy, not a theocracy, and it is dangerous to try and move in that direction.

PERKINS:  And that's what we're saying.  Let us live as we want to live.

SHARPTON:  Well then you don't put your cross up on public emblems.

PERKINS: That's parts of our history.

MATTHEWS:  Well I don't agree with the stuff about Tom DeLay, but I do believe there is a campaign against religion in this country and we hear it all the time.  I think you're right, that's true, it's just true. 

And Reverend Sharpton probably agrees with me, but not in the partisan part of it.  Anyway, thank you Reverend Sharpton, thank you Tony Perkins.

Watch 'Hardball' each night at 5 and 7 p.m. ET on MSNBC. 

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