The most prolific manufacturer and promoter of apocryphal stories of American Christian persecution working today is Fox News reporter Todd Starnes. If a story emerges about a service member punished for his or her Christian beliefs or a schoolchild banned from talking about Christmas, it most likely originated with or was promoted by Starnes. And there’s a good chance the facts have been either severely distorted or completely fabricated.
For an example of how the Starnes myth machine works, take the story of Air Force Sgt. Phillip Monk, “relieved of his duties,” according to Starnes, “after he disagreed with his openly gay commander when she wanted to severely punish an instructor who had expressed religious objections to homosexuality.”
“Christians have to go into the closet,” Monk told Starnes. “We are being robbed of our dignity and respect. We can’t be who we are.” Starnes added: “[I]n essence, Christians are trading places with homosexuals.”
It appears that Monk’s story was being shopped around by his attorneys at Liberty Institute, one of several Christian Right legal groups that devote themselves to digging up and publicizing alleged cases of persecution. The Alliance Defending Freedom and the American Center for Law and Justice have played a similar role, cheered on by allies in groups such as the Family Research Council (FRC) and the American Family Association (AFA).
The Monk story hit a nerve in a movement still reeling from the 2010 repeal of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy banning openly gay service members.
After Starnes reported Monk’s tale in August 2013, the story spread like wildfire in the Religious Right. Liberty University official Shawn Akers cited the story to claim that Christians were now the victims of a new “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. The AFA’s Bryan Fischer pointed to Monk’s commander to claim that “homosexuals that are in the military” could now “get away with absolutely anything.” Monk was invited to share his tale at a Values Voter Summit panel on the alleged trend of anti-Christian persecution. The Family Research Council produced a tearful video in which Monk told of how he was “reassigned by his commander because of his belief that marriage is the union of a man and a woman.”
But Monk’s story just wasn’t true. In Starnes’ very first report on Monk, he quoted an Air Force spokesman who explained that Monk hadn’t been punished but had simply come to the end of his assignment. A subsequent Air Force investigation found, according to the Military Times, that “Monk was not removed from his position, but rather moved, as scheduled, to another Lackland unit, an assignment he was notified of in April.”
taken from The Persecution Complex: The Religious Right’s Deceptive Rallying Cry by People for the American Way. The entire report is a must read for those concern with how the religious right is exploiting the ideas of "persecution" and "religious liberty."