Listening to the news can really make you think.

On my way to work one recent morning, I heard a story on National Public Radio's "Morning Edition" about a Pakistani woman, a Christian, who had just been acquitted by the country's Supreme Court of a charge of blasphemy. If found guilty, she would likely have been put to death. Indeed, she had previously been sentenced to death, and for eight or nine years her case had wound its way through Pakistan's legal system.

The reporter said the woman had been accused of blasphemy by fellow farm workers who were Muslim. Apparently she had offered them a drink of water from a container she had also used, and they didn't want to drink from the same vessel she had. And so her coworkers accused her of blasphemy, a capital crime in their country. The happy, or at least non-lethal, ending of the story includes the fact that the woman and her family fled Pakistan for their lives after the verdict in her favor.

Talk about religious persecution — some in this country feel persecuted because they can't force schoolchildren to say the Lord's Prayer every morning. They don't know from real persecution. After all, voluntary prayer is legal anytime, anywhere in the United States. So is loving your neighbor.

When all you have to complain about in the way of restrictions on your religious liberty is that the law insists you treat gay people and straight people equally in your place of business, or that, as a government official, you afford all citizens equal protection under the law, you don't really have a loss of religious liberty. You have resistance to a society that is becoming more diverse.

It's the fear of that growing diversity — of religion, culture, ethnicity and more — that seems to be fueling America's lurch to the right. We are turning into a country where children are torn from their parents and put in cages for the crime of being poor and from somewhere else. Where prejudice against Muslims is so virulent, non-Muslims have been attacked merely because they were wearing turbans. Where white supremacists gun down Jews and Christians alike in their houses of prayer, and gun ownership is treated as sacred. Where "religious liberty" is being redefined as the freedom to discriminate against people one doesn't like, and the right of those in power to impose their religion on unwilling citizens.

The problem is not Islam or Christianity or any other faith; it's religious extremism — actually, just plain extremism — of any stripe. It's using fear to get and maintain power.

In a country where, if my employer thinks contraception is wrong, I can't have access to it, we may not have achieved theocracy, but the theocratic impulse is clear. And don't tell me to pay out of pocket. It's health insurance, dammit, it's supposed to cover medical needs, and contraception is a medical need. My employer should not have the right to dictate what family planning options are available to me.

I am glad that our nation does not execute people for blasphemy, or for criticizing the government, or for holding unpopular opinions (including ones I personally disagree with), or for associating with those of whom society disapproves. And I mostly trust that we will never go that far.

But I am honestly afraid that there is a growing minority on the right in this country who passionately want to see the United States become more like Pakistan, or Poland, or Turkey. Places where there may be a veneer of democracy, but the choice offered by the state is, "heads I win, tails you lose."