Written By: Anton Sawyer
This article is part of an ongoing series where I break down courses offered at PragerU and expose some of the misdirection they're peddling. Each course is readily available to everyone (the free stuff). I would love to sign up for their complete online courses, so if you would like to see me go in-depth to one of their official courses, then please “buy a coffee”. I will use those funds to “advance my education” through the “prestigious” University that is Prager.
Debunking Courses Offered At PragerU Lesson 11—“You Can’t Be Free Without This”
Spoiler alert when it comes to the title; religion is what you need to have freedom. The PragerU course I’m debunking today is another that relies heavily on false equations based on self-victimization. We all know that PragerU will always toe the line when it comes to the religiously devout section of the Republican party, but even this course today is stretching the limits as to what is even in the ballpark of reality. From shaded half-truths to exploiting the inherent ignorance found in their devout followers, PragerU is making the perfect case as to why religion and reality are never found to be bedfellows.
In an attempt to maintain complete transparency, all research and statistical fact-checking for all articles can be found in the bibliography linked here.
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To keep things clear, all statements from the video will be in bold, while all my responses will be in italics.
"You Can’t Be Free Without This"
Today’s presenter is Kelly Shackelford, President of First Liberty.
What is religious freedom? Why is it important? And why is it now under threat? “Hold on a second,” I can hear you saying. “Religious freedom is threatened? Who doesn’t have religious freedom in the United States? You can be a Protestant, a Catholic, a Jew, a Muslim, or a Wiccan. You can believe in anything—or nothing.”
It seems that Mr. Shackleford has read some of the articles on The Indie Truther as that is exactly what I’m thinking.
This was true. But not anymore. Seems like almost every week a new dispute arises between people of faith and government agencies alleging that believers are violating the rights of non-believers, or simply violating government edicts. Given that the search for religious freedom was central to the founding of America, this is quite a reversal. As Thomas Paine put it in his influential 1776 pamphlet Common Sense, “This new world hath been the asylum for the persecuted lovers of civil and religious liberty from every part of Europe.” It wasn’t an accident that the first freedom listed in the Bill of Rights, the first 10 amendments to the Constitution, is about religious liberty. Here’s what it says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” This meant the new United States would have no government-sponsored religion, as Europe had at the time, and no restrictions on how you practiced your religion.
So far he’s correct. This was the basis for our nations’ founding and his understanding of such things is fairly spot-on … for now.
British historian Paul Johnson draws a stark and telling contrast between the two great revolutions of the 18th century. “The essential difference between the American Revolution and the French Revolution is that the American Revolution, in its origins, was a religious event, whereas the French Revolution was an anti-religious event. That fact was to shape the American Revolution … and determine the nature of the independent state it brought into being.”
OK, this is where philosophy is beginning to muddy the waters. If we view the beginning of America as a need for religious freedom, and the Revolution was a way to sever all ties to the life we’d had before colonization, then sure, the war could have been seen as a religious event that made America 100% autonomous with faith as the driving factor. And yes, one of the cornerstones to the French Revolution was fighting back the religious oppression the leaders had imposed by making the practice of Christ-based religions illegal outside of the deist state religion under the name of “Supreme Being.” All this was being done while enacting the Law of Suspects to further destroy all Christ-based religious iconography nationwide. So, in a philosophical sense, by the people destroying the state-forced belief system of France, then yes, it could be seen as an anti-religious event. Though all technically accurate, there’s a lot of shading to the real reasons these revolutions took place.
Now, two centuries after the Bill of Rights, freedom of religion, one of the main goals of the American Revolution, had morphed into freedom from religion—one of the main goals of the French Revolution. That’s now what any American should wish for.
And there it is; the reason for the shading. The French leadership had forced a specific religion down the throats of their people and forbade them from practicing any Christ-based faith by destroying every cross, every place of worship, etc. I can’t see how people fighting back against a government that is forcing a belief system on their people is being an “anti-religious event.” And yeah, the right to fight an oppressive government that is forcing state-run beliefs into the homes of everyone is something I believe every American wishes for.
Here’s why: because when they come for your religious freedom, they’re coming for all your freedom. It’s the totalitarian “tell.” The giveaway. This is what the Founders understood and why they were so insistent that religious liberty be in the Constitution. To them, freedom of liberty was tantamount to freedom of thought. If you aren’t free to think as you wish, you can’t claim to be free. They were right. There is no example in history of a regime suppressing religious freedom and not suppressing other freedoms.
This entire section is conflating faith with freedom and liberty. It’s forcing the mindset that without a religious core, a person is incapable of not only understanding how a lack of faith impacts their perception of freedom, but there is an inherent lack of thought when there is a lack of belief. The verbiage and transitions are incredibly subtle, but the false similes are abundant and with purpose.
Coincidentally, I think it’s worth noting that they are right in their thinking that the forcing of religious ideologies also directly leads to the suppression of other freedoms. For example, abortion. When forcing the religious ideology that life beings at conception and abortion are morally wrong on everyone else, it then suppresses the rights of women as it pertains to their freedom of bodily autonomy.
One of the first things the communists did in Russia after the Russian Revolution in 1917 was to close nearly every church and take control of all religious life in the Soviet Union—Christian, Jewish, and Muslim. To this day, all religious life in China is strictly controlled by the Chinese communist government.
Though this entire bit seems utterly transparent, I know there are people out there who won’t “get it.” Whenever PragerU or the Republican Party invokes communism (whether Russia, China, or whoever is most convenient), it’s always done in a religious context. The reason why is that it subliminally ties liberalism with communism and the destruction of faith with liberalism specifically. Though Prager tries to be coy about it, these points being made are to shape the mind of the viewer to think that communism destroys religion, some liberals don’t want to be forced to say a prayer in public schools (thereby trying to kill religion), therefore liberals are communists that want to destroy Jesus. To them, it really is that simple.
Why do repressive governments fear religious freedom? Because it challenges the authority of the state more than any other freedom. People who adhere to a religion believe that there’s something higher than the state, and no repressive government can tolerate such a belief.
It’s interesting because it’s this exact reasoning that allowed for the insurrection of January 6th, 2021 to take place. Think about it. To those people, they needed a president like Trump who would do God’s work. And as we all know, God had ordained only Trump to fulfill these holy obligations. Because they were just doing God’s work, there was a need to go over the “state’s laws” and enact God’s law by fulfilling the prophecy of Trump being RIGHTFULLY elected president, thereby saving America from Satan. And the only way this could be done was by storming the capital and doing whatever possible to fulfill the prophecy … no matter the cost of human life.
That makes religion the first target of those who want ever more power—and ever more control over its citizens. That’s why, even if you’re not religious, if you care about freedom, you should care deeply about religious liberty.
And I do. I’ve never wanted to see a faith be crushed under the weight of an oppressive government. But it’s important to remember that just because you’re not having your faith endorsed in every school, it doesn’t mean that an oppressive government is coming into your home and burning your Bibles. And that’s where the need for self-victimization to come in. Faith can only work if there’s a level of victimization happening. “My people have been persecuted because they aren’t teaching that Moses helped write the 10 commandments in public school history class. They are denying every child the need for spiritual growth that is necessary in this life; therefore we are all being attacked.” This entire video is an homage to getting people to binding the thoughts that not wanting religion in your life is akin to being a communist that wants nothing more than the world to be completely uneducated as to the spiritual realities of life, all while burning every church and temple to the ground.
And, let me tell you the trends are troubling. Eight years ago, my case load was 47; last year it was over 300. Here are some recent examples. Bremerton, Washington high school football coach Joe Kennedy was first suspended and then fired for going to a knee after a football game to say a brief, silent prayer. A three-judge panel from the Ninth Circuit Federal Court of Appeals concluded that, because Coach Kennedy could be seen engaging in religious expression by students and fans, the school had the right to fire him. The city of Houston is attempting to ban a small Orthodox Jewish community from worshipping in the home of its Rabbi. Given that the neighborhood includes a rehab house, a Ghanaian Church, and an east Indian cultural center, the city’s action is hard to fathom. A “peace cross” in Bladensburg, Maryland has stood for almost 100 years in honor of 49 young men who died fighting in World War I. Yet, in 2017, a court ordered the cross to be torn down. One judge offered a novel compromise. She suggested we “chop the arms off the cross” to make it less offensive. Fortunately, we won that case 7-2 at the United States Supreme Court and that cross is still standing.
This case really needs context. Kennedy was hired in 2008 and did the silent prayers. Eventually, the school district officials became aware he was doing this and they reminded him of a policy that prohibited school staff from indirectly encouraging students to engage in religious activity or discouraging them from doing so because it would be perceived as endorsing or opposing religious activity. So, he briefly stopped doing them. He knew it was against school policy, he knew he could get in trouble for it, but he started doing it again anyway. The Supreme Court of the United States has said it will listen to arguments after lower-court rulings had voted in favor of the school in late 2022. Though the GOP constantly uses the “if you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime” as a part of their tough-love outlook, it seems that only applies to causes they detest. Because that sort of tough love stance would work perfectly in this scenario.
As I’ve already mentioned, for any of this to work in favor of the religious zealots, you simply MUST HAVE the self-victimization. In the case of the Jewish center versus the city of Houston, it’s worth noting that after a lawsuit was filed against the city by the Jewish Church in the home of the Rabbi, the city quickly withdrew its legal actions thereby allowing the center to return to its full glory. So, the entire point of mentioning this Jewish community issue was merely to arouse anger and make it seems that religion is under attack, even though nothing negative ended up happening to the community church.
As far as the “peace cross” is concerned, it has nothing to do with killing Christianity or the like. In December 2016, a Maryland federal court heard an appeal in a suit brought by the American Humanist Association in 2014 arguing that a cross on public land violated the Establishment Clause. The plaintiffs maintained that the memorial was unconstitutional, not offensive, and called for a replacement monument, not total eradication of the WWI memorial.
America is also still standing. But it won’t be for much longer, not as the free country the Founder envisioned if we don’t take these threats to religious freedom seriously. The great historian of post-revolutionary America, Alexis de Tocqueville, understood this very well. “When … men attack religious beliefs, they are following their emotions, not their interests. Tyranny may be able to do without faith, but freedom cannot.” I’m Kelly Shackelford, President of First Liberty, for Prager University.—End Credits.
Of course, reality sort of kills this last section. A 2016 research report done by the University of Utah School of Medicine found that religious and spiritual experiences activate the brain reward circuits in much the same way as love, sex, gambling, drugs, and music. This report was later published in the November 29th edition of the journal “Social Neuroscience.” When the religious leaders speak of “feeling the spirit,” it’s nothing more than the emotional reward center of your brain lighting up and sending tingles down your spine; it’s NOT anything else. But this emotional discharge is key to many in maintaining their faith. So, in reality, when men DEFEND their religious beliefs, it’s done out of emotion and not fact. And that’s what this entire PragerU video has been: feelings parading as facts with a healthy dose of conflating non-realities into the mix. From this video, we are to learn that if you are not of a Christ-based faith, you are uneducated and hell-bent on trying to destroy every potential avenue of freedom.
As I said, faith needs self-victimization to work. I have yet to see any member of any political party try to pass legislation outlawing religion in and of itself. I have never seen any political party in America try to outlaw or ban Bibles, crosses, or another Christ-based iconography anywhere … well, except public schools (you know, where it’s not supposed to be in the first place).
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