This story has gotten old: Christian legal organization devoted to “defending” religious liberty shares a tale of religious persecution. Todd Starnes picks up the story. With 30 minutes or less of Google searching you can discover that the story has either been exaggerated, or denied by the other party. But regardless of the facts, the story spreads like wildfire.

This week we got the story of a California charter school which “purged” all Christian books, including The Hiding Place, a popular Christian book by Corrie ten Boom. A parent complained after being told by an attendant at the school library that the library was told to remove all religious books. The Pacific Justice Institute stepped in and sent the school a cease and desist letter, which the superintendent of the school replied to, admitting “We . . . do not allow sectarian materials on our state-authorized lending shelves.”

The story was picked up by Todd Starnes, who goes full slippery-slope-to-Nazis on us: “The way I see it – book banning is just one step away from book burning. And I don’t mean to pour gasoline on the fire, but we all know what regime did that.”

Charisma and Christian Post reprinted Starnes’ report. CP even devoted a cartoon to the story

It was also covered by author Joel Miller, whose article was then shared by influential evangelical figure Eric Metaxas, and then in turn covered by Rod Dreher, a conservative figure whom I have great respect for. What follows is not a real criticism of these writers, although I do think each of them, but especially Miller, should have been a bit more skeptical of the story before sharing it. We all get duped by stories on the Internet at one time or another. It’s how we respond to those mistakes that says something about our commitment to the truth.

No, from what I can tell, the real blame here lies on Pacific Justice Institute and Todd Starnes, who both claim that the school purged Corrie ten Boom’s book and imply that in the superintendent’s letter to the Institute she admitted to the purge.

However, according to the statement released by the school, Boom’s book is not banned and no purge happened: “We can and do provide educational books with religious perspectives, including Corrie ten Boom’s The Hiding Place.”

Did the Superintendent make this clear in the letter she sent to PJI? That much is not clear, since PJI didn’t actually post her letter online. But in the quotes given by Starnes from the letter, the superintendent at no point says that they purged texts with religious content. She says they can’t buy “sectarian” textbooks or curriculum, which is hardly the same thing.

It’s unclear whether Starnes and PJI knew that the school did not ban Boom’s book, but surely they could have done some more investigating before drawing this conclusion. Starnes claims that he gave her “24 hours” to respond to his calls, but given Starnes’ track record, I can’t imagine why any school official would want to talk with him.

Screen Shot 2014-09-25 at 9.17.57 PMThe sad thing here is the abuse that this charter school is getting online because of this “report.” Commenters are trolling the school’s Facebook page, calling down damnation upon them and their secular agenda. Meanwhile, Christian parents whose children attend the school are posting impassioned defenses of the school in response.

This kind of sensationalistic reporting causes real harm to the people involved. I feel terrible for the Superintendent, Kathleen Hermsmeyer, who appears to be a practicing Catholic and who I imagine is under tremendous stress and pressure right now. Just imagine being the object of disdain for tens of thousands of Fox News readers who see you as a symbol of the secularist/liberal persecution of Christianity in America. Remember, this is not the first time Starnes has wrongly accused a Christian of persecuting Christians.

This story is so old. We need to move past this nonsense. Starnes and PJI need to either issue an apology or provide evidence for their claim of a purge. And we need to stop supporting people who peddle their fearmongering at the expense of believers.

Update: changed word “novel” throughout the piece to “book” to reflect that The Hiding Place is actually non-fiction.

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