A recent editorial by the Salt Lake City-based Deseret News editors argued that the recent murders of nine black church-goers at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina by the young Dylann Roof "was an assault on all Americans as well as on a bedrock principle of American liberty -- the right to worship freely."
The editorial went on to suggest that, in addition to any racial motivations on the part of the shooter, he may also have been specifically targeting "religious people." The editorial continues: "Even if the murderer had racial hatred as his primary motive, his choice to attack a sanctuary of worship puts this crime in a similar category to attacks on worshipers -- often coincidentally identified by race -- worldwide."
The editorial finishes by warning readers that a key lesson to learn from this tragedy is to avoid of "the dangers of a rising secularism that would limit religious expression."
As was so completely and obviously apparent from the beginning and has been made even more clear in the aftermath, Dylann Roof did not commit this act of murder out of a secular hatred for religious freedoms or religious Americans. He did this because he hates black people.
As much as some conservative Christians feel that their religious liberties are being threatened by secular society these days, their struggles pale in comparison to the systematic prejudice and discrimination still regularly experienced by racial minorities in the United States on a daily basis. To try to twist this story into a "religious liberty is under attack" narrative is not only completely tone deaf and self-serving, but shows an extreme lack of sensitivity and respect to the families of the shooting victims.
Finally, it is ironic that the Deseret News pins the blame of this tragic event on "secularism" because it is also the case that these so-called "seculars" also tend to be more politically liberal and are some of the country's strongest supporters of legislation to help remove the lasting barriers of racial discrimination in society. By virtue of their political ideology, seculars also tend to be stronger proponents of common sense gun control legislation. In contrast, these same things are often opposed by more religious Americans who tend to also be more politically conservative. Maybe what we need in this society to help prevent future tragedies such as this is a little more "secularism" in our policy-making... at least when it comes to the topic of guns. Or racially-motivated violence.
It is also an unfortunate argument given that the Deseret News is owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and, although technically not an official voice of the Church, the newspaper is still perceived by many to represent popular opinions of both church members as well as its leaders. For a religious organization that is desperately trying to distance itself from its racist past, arguments like these only perpetuate stereotypes that the largely white, middle-class American Mormon community still doesn't "get" the concerns of racial minorities. (This is especially ironic given that Mormons were once on the receiving end of racial discrimination and prejudice in the United States.) It also perpetuates stereotypes that their opinion leaders, from their position of white, middle-class privilege, would rather try to score political points than attempt to engage with issues of race and violence in a meaningful or productive way.