Jesting at the doubters of President Obama's birth certificate has been the low-hanging fruit for political comedy in America for years.
One of the lighter moments in recent American political history was the 2011 White House Correspondents Dinner where President Obama roasted Donald Trump and his fellow Birthers. Obama not only offered his long form birth certificate from Hawaii, but he also produced a video of his birth, which was the opening scene from The Lion King depicting the birth of Simba.
Obama added over the roaring laughter of the crowd that he wanted to make sure the correspondents from Republican-leaning FOX News understood the video was only a Disney movie, not his actual birth.
Behind the punch lines, however, is a simmering mistrust of foreigners and an even worse fear of Muslims in America. While some Americans fear the persecution of Christians, the numbers and several high profile events in the news suggest that Muslims are one of several groups who have more to fear in the United States than Christians.
A question from one audience member at a New Hampshire rally for Donald Trump illustrated this fear perfectly:
"We have a problem in this country. It's called Muslims. We know our current president is one. You know he's not even an American. We have training camps growing when they want to kill us. My question: When can we get rid of them?"
Trump, who clearly doesn't trust paperwork from the state of Hawaii or Obama's conversion story, said "We need this question." He then responded, "We are going to be looking at a lot of different things. And a lot of people are saying that, and a lot of people are saying that bad things are happening out there. We are going to be looking at that and plenty of other things."
As critics called out Trump for failing to correct the questioner and offering such an ominous answer, a spokesperson for his campaign, compounded the problem by stating, "The bigger issue is that Obama is waging a war against Christians in this country. They need support, and their religious liberty is at stake."
This isn't an isolated view in America. Muslims are feared by some Americans and even equated with being terrorists. In addition, these same Americans simultaneously fear the persecution of Christians. These are people who can most likely distinguish the Christian origins of the Ku Klux Klan from mainstream Christians, but cannot tell apart a moderate Muslim who has a 9-5 job from a violent extremist Muslim who enlists in ISIS. In fact, most Muslim leaders consistently denounce terrorism.
While many Americans recoiled in horror at the arrest of 14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed of Texas' MacArthur High School because a teacher thought his homemade clock was a bomb, Republican leaders redirected attention to the "persecution of Christians." Bobby Jindal said that he was glad the police were careful and then commented, "the biggest discrimination that's going on is against Christian business owners and individuals who believe in traditional forms of marriage."
In an apparent bid to become the next Captain Obvious, Lindsey Graham added, "Young men from the Middle East are different than Kim Davis, and we've got to understand that."
One wonders if Graham can grasp the persecution and profiling that peaceful Muslims in America, such as Ahmed, face every day because he's so fixated on certain "young men from the Middle East."
While the Republican candidates can point to several isolated incidents where Christians have attempted to use their beliefs to deny legal rights to LGBT individuals, this is nothing compared to what Muslims face year in, year out in America.
Hate crimes against Muslims in America spiked at nearly 500 reported incidents in the wake of the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001. That trend shows no sign of abating any time soon as the latest data indicates that Muslims are still being targeted, with over 100 hate crimes directed against Muslims every year. Keep in mind that hate crimes are generally under-reported or incorrectly classified by police, so those numbers are most likely higher in reality.
While Christians are no doubt suffering persecution all over the world at the hands of totalitarian regimes and Muslim extremist groups, Christians in America don't even warrant mention on the Voice of the Martyrs prayer map or the Open Doors World Watch list. In fact, American Christians are far more likely to deny the rights of Muslims, such as opposing the construction of a mosque, than to be persecuted in a similar manner by their own government.
While there's no doubt America's intelligence community must remain vigilant against the threat of violent extremists, the number one killer of American Christians over the past year wasn't the "liberal" government or Muslims.
Ed Cyzewski (MDiv) is the author of Coffeehouse Theology, A Christian Survival Guide, and The Good News of Revelation. He writes at www.edcyzewski.com.