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'Imperialism of woke culture' is greatest threat to religious freedom worldwide: ADF president

Religious freedom
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The head of a noted religious freedom advocacy organization cited “the dominance of woke culture that thinks it’s OK to silence people who disagree” as the greatest threat to religious freedom in the United States and around the world.

Michael Farris, president and CEO of Alliance Defending Freedom, discussed the state of religious freedom at home and abroad in an interview with The Christian Post ahead of his moderation of a panel at the second annual International Religious Freedom Summit in Washington, D.C., Thursday.

Explaining that many people, especially Christians, find themselves on “the receiving end of efforts to silence them, to cause them to lose their careers” and “not have the ability to even get their opinions out in public society,” Farris said “the dominance of woke culture that thinks it’s OK to silence people who disagree is very dangerous in many respects for freedom of speech and freedom of religion” in the U.S.

Farris told CP that “in some sectors of the world,” the greatest threat to religious freedom is “the same as the United States,” specifically, “the imperialism of woke culture.” He maintained that the “totalitarian mood” behind woke culture extends to the dominant orthodoxies in other countries as well: “In India, for example, Hindu nationalism operates on a very, very egregious basis and tries to close down people that are differing.”

“I was in India just a few weeks ago and met with a young man who was beaten by the police for simply praying out loud on a neighborhood balcony of an apartment,” he said. “He was charged with a crime of forcible conversion. All he was doing was praying for his uncle’s healing.”

Farris cited the intolerance of Hindu nationalists in India as well as woke culture in the U.S. as examples of how “we’re in a mood of the world where diversity of opinion is not being tolerated. There’s [pressure] to adhere to whatever the prevailing viewpoint is in a particular country, whether that’s Hindu nationalism or left-wing cultural wokeism.”

“Get in line or face the consequences is the mood in way too many places in the world,” he said, stressing that “it’s relatively a small, very vocal, very vicious minority that wants to silence people, especially in this country.

“I don’t think that the majority of Americans support this,” he added, noting that “waking up the big middle of the country to what’s happening” is a necessary step in reversing the trend of intolerance because “most Americans still believe in their heart that everybody should be able to say whatever they want and not suffer the consequences of being subjected to mob violence.”

Farris recalled that earlier this year, one of his colleagues, ADF General Counsel Kristen Waggoner, had a mob try to “drown her out” as she addressed students at Yale Law School. At the same time, he expressed hope that “America can listen to its better angels and not listen to people who really want to pursue what I believe to be an un-American position of silencing those that you disagree with.”

Agreeing that “Christians who hold biblical views on sexuality, gender and abortion are not being tolerated in the public square,” Farris identified “most college campuses or most public schools” as the most hostile environments for those with such beliefs: “It is very, very difficult to be able to communicate your views as a Christian and there is punishment being metered out.”

“Now, the good news is we’re winning a number of those battles in court, but the culture is pretty oppressive right now,” he added. “Whereas, the ultimate victory in the courts is improving.”

Farris elaborated on his concerns with American education, noting that he had been “litigating cases” involving a tug of war between parents and schools and teachers over what is taught in public schools surrounding sex and gender for 40 years. “There has been some level of this that’s been going on at least that long,” he asserted.

“It’s gotten a lot worse. It’s a material increase and probably the most significant fact is a lot of parents, millions of parents became far more aware of what was going on in public schools by watching what their kids were learning over the internet during the COVID shutdowns. That has resulted in a huge increase in parental awareness and parental involvement. I think that the changes that we’re going to see in education policy as a result of that are going to be pretty significant over time.”

Farris said one change in education policy that has already materialized is a doubling of the homeschool population in the last couple of years: “It went from 5 percent of the school-aged population to about 10 percent.”

“There’s a certain segment that will probably return, but the presence of critical theory, both critical race theory and critical gender theory, in the public schools has grown so rapidly that I think that the net trend is going to be more and more homeschooling,” he predicted. “This is a phenomenon that’s here to stay, and as long as the public schools decide that they are more about indoctrination than they are academic excellence, homeschooling’s going to continue to flourish.”

Farris attributed the ascendance of critical theory and other concerning curriculum in schools to the fact that “school districts are organized in a way that the teachers’ union has an outsized influence in a number of ways.” He also explained that “the general education establishment, if you’re starting with the teachers’ colleges in the country that control a lot of what happens downstream, [has] pretty much bought into the culturally woke agenda.”

“They’ve accepted critical race theory as their framework,” Farris added. Describing universities and the teachers’ unions as “true believers in that ideology” who have an “outsized impact” on education in the U.S., he cheered the emergence of “more and more parents who are independent.” He also emphasized that “parents need to speak up and stand up for their kids.”

“I just think that the education establishment needs to wake up and realize that their customer base, if you will, doesn’t share their ideology. If they don’t want to lose the whole power that they now possess entirely, they need to change course,” Farris contended.

Farris also said that public schools are to blame for causing a spike in “culturally-induced transgender incidence” by embracing the tenets of the “culturally woke agenda” and critical theory. “Far too many kids are being told by their public school that because you’re a white Christian kid, you’re an oppressor and the only way out of being an oppressor and being labeled a villain is to become a sexual minority,” he warned. 

Alliance Defending Freedom has represented parents in many cases involving parental rights: “There have been so many incidents that we’ve been involved with where kids are momentarily confused, induced by a lot of this teaching. And then, once you get it away from them for a little bit, their head clears. They go, ‘What was I thinking?’ That doesn’t mean that there aren’t kids with genuine mental health issues arising out of sexual confusion. But people with mental health professions need to be helping parents with that.”

Farris insisted that “the schools have no business intervening in this medical situation where that is legitimately an issue with a child,” adding that the surge in the number of children with gender dysphoria is “induced by the peer pressure and the faddishness that’s going on.”

“And so that is the issue, and the ability of parents to be able to make decisions for their kids and not lose control of that, because of the wokeness that has entered into the medical profession is, I think, an important component of parental rights as well.”

Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at: ryan.foley@christianpost.com

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