On April 20 2019, a Facebook user shared a text-based status update to their personal timeline, claiming Bernie Sanders said that “Christianity is an insult to Muslims.” The text on the post read:
Bernie Sanders Says Christianity Is An Insult To Muslims. I say Bernie is an insult to America.
As noted in several previous fact checks, disinformation by text-based status update has exploded on Facebook since it allowed updates with colored or patterned backgrounds. Prior text-based disinformation includes claims that a 2012 gun ban led to Venezuelans massacred in the streets, dozens of Christians were murdered by Muslims in March 2019, the passage of HR 1 allowed non-citizens to vote, President Barack Obama deliberately seeded refugee voters into what would become Ilhan Omar’s district, and that Chicago city identification cards enabled non-citizens to vote (again.)
On each of those pages, we linked to a March 2019 Poynter article examining the relative ease with which text-based Facebook posts proliferate on that platform:
But since [the format was introduced], like other formats on Facebook, the text post feature has been weaponized into an effective way to spread misinformation on the platform.
Over the past few weeks, some of the most viral hoaxes on Facebook have spread in the form of text posts. They make salacious political claims without linking to any website or attaching a photo or video. They often come from regular Facebook users instead of Pages or Groups.
The post about Bernie Sanders appeared in this form: Simple text in a highly-sharable, public image format with no citations or other corroborating information. Despite the post being nothing more than a simple statement, it was shared by roughly a quarter of a million Facebook users in a few weeks.
But the claim was actually older than even that iteration. In June 2018, FactCheck.org did its own review, noting that it originated with an exchange between Sanders and Office of Management and Budget deputy director nominee Russell Vought during a June 2017 confirmation hearing. In that exchange, Sanders questioned Vought about a piece he had written for an outlet called Resurgent and assertions Vought had made about the fate of non-Christians’ souls. (Sanders is Jewish.)
Vought did not fully answer Sanders’ question, but at no point in the exchange could any of Sanders’ remarks be construed as calling Christianity an insult to Muslims:
Sanders: Let me get to this issue that has bothered me and bothered many other people, and that is in the piece that I referred to that you wrote for a publication called Resurgent. You wrote: “Muslims do not simply have a deficient theology. They do not know God because they have rejected Jesus Christ, His Son, and they stand condemned.” Do you believe that that statement is Islamophobic?
Vought: Absolutely not, Senator. I am a Christian, and I believe in a Christian set of principles based on my faith. That post, as I stated in the questionnaire to this committee, was to defend my alma mater, Wheaton College, a Christian school that has a statement of faith that includes the centrality of Jesus Christ for salvation, and —
Sanders: Again, I apologize. Forgive me. We just do not have a lot of time. Do you believe that people in the Muslim religion stand condemned? Is that your view?
Vought: Again, Senator, I am a Christian, and I wrote that piece —
Sanders: Well, what does that say —
Vought: In accordance with the statement of faith of Wheaton College.
Sanders: I understand that. I do not know how many Muslims there are in America. I really do not know, probably a couple million. Are you suggesting that all of those people stand condemned? What about Jews? Do they stand condemned, too?
Vought: Senator, I am a Christian. I —
Sanders: I understand you are a Christian, but this country is made up of people who are not just–I understand that Christianity is the majority religion, but there are other people of different religions in this country and around the world. In your judgment, do you think that people who are not Christians are going to be condemned?
Vought: Thank you for probing on that question. As a Christian, I believe that all individuals are made in the image of God and are worthy of dignity and respect regardless of their religious beliefs. I believe that as a Christian that is how I should treat all individuals —
Sanders: And do you think your statement that you put into that publication, “They do not know God because they rejected Jesus Christ, His Son, and they stand condemned,” do you think that is respectful of other religions?
Vought: Senator, I wrote a post based on being a Christian and attending a Christian school that has a statement of faith that speaks clearly with regard to the centrality of Jesus Christ in salvation.
Sanders: I would simply say, Mr. Chairman, that this nominee is really not someone who is what this country is supposed to be about. I will vote no [on Vought’s confirmation].
As FactCheck.org noted, the claim that Sanders said Christianity was an insult to Muslims first spread in article form before jumping to memes, then text-based status updates. In meme and text form, the claim was far easier to spread and more difficult to debunk, but it is not based in fact nevertheless.