Many, many Christians believe they are subject to religious discrimination in the United States. A new report from the Public Religion Research Institute and Brookings offers evidence: Almost half of Americans say discrimination against Christians is as big of a problem as discrimination against other groups, including blacks and minorities. Three-quarters of Republicans and Trump supporters said this, and so did nearly eight out of 10 white evangelical Protestants. Of the latter group, six in 10 believe that although America once was a Christian nation, it is no longer—a huge jump from 2012.
This is an excellent example of the power of propaganda. The right has so relentlessly pushed this myth of Christian persecution by hyping, exaggerating and outright lying about stories of Christian oppression that it’s now believed by the vast majority of them.
One aspect of American fear that’s been talked about a lot during this presidential-election cycle is fear of the other, from the Mexican immigrants who would be kept out by a wall to the Muslim refugees who would be banned from fleeing here from their homes abroad. That fear seems to fade, though, if Americans recognize a religious kinship with people they perceive as foreign.Forty-six percent of those surveyed said immigration from Mexico and Central America has been too high in recent years. When asked the same question about immigrants from “predominantly Christian countries,” though, only 10 percent of people said immigration has been too high. The irony is that this is essentially the same question, phrased two different ways: Latin American countries are overwhelming Christian—in many places, even more so than the United States. When Americans think of those immigrants as Christians, rather than foreign nationals, they’re more likely to open their arms in welcome.
There’s an obvious explanation for this discrepancy: “Christian” is seen as a synonym for “white.” When they say they’d welcome immigrants from Christian countries, they really are just thinking of white people. But Mexicans and Central Americans are brown, so the fact that they’re also Christian simply does not register for them.