Fox News anchor: I didn't know it was criminal to be a Christian

Editor's note: The following is an excerpt from Gretchen Carlson's new book, "Getting Real."

It was while doing "Fox & Friends" that I got a reputation for being a culture warrior. Bill O'Reilly started inviting me to come  on "The O'Reilly Factor"  for a regular culture warrior segment. I really cared  about this  stuff.  Fox was the first place I'd worked where it was okay to talk openly about your faith on the  air.  Of course, I understand that when you're doing news reporting and  anchoring, it's not appropriate. But at Fox I had  a different kind  of forum, so I went  for it.

Where our culture is headed is an enduring topic of interest for many people, and I think they  appreciate it that I take the topic on -- even  when they don't agree with  me. For example, I've re­ceived plenty of flak for talking about the war on Christmas, often being described as "freaking out" and "going ballistic," as if I were some demented Christian warrior. One website  published this pearl: "If Bill O'Reilly is the  commander-in-chief of the  War on Christmas, Gretchen Carlson is the head of the women's auxiliary." The thing  is, it's not  a joke to me.  I can't think of a single other religion whose holy day is treated like a joke.

It all came to a head  over the Festivus controversy. Festivus is a fake  holiday, invented by the  hit  show "Seinfeld" in 1997. It was  a funny bit on the comedy, and I laughed along with  the rest of the world. But  then it got  real. Some  people subsequently began to celebrate the holiday as an alternative to the Christian celebration, and one of them  wrote a book  called "Festivus: The Holiday for the Rest of Us."

I was asking a question that needed to be asked: Do we think so little of our religious symbols and rituals that we would give equal weight to a beer can sculpture based on an old sitcom? I still think it’s a good question.

In 2008, when  I heard  that  a group was petitioning the governor of Washington State to erect  a Festivus pole as part of the  Christ­mas  display, I thought it was the stupidest thing I'd ever  heard. When I brought it up on "Fox & Friends," Steve and  Brian  tried  to laugh it off as silly, but I was dead serious. I thought it was mocking Christianity, and  I said so. (And by the way, a lot of people think  that  on Fox we have producers  talking to us through our earpieces telling us what to say. We don’t. That protest was all me.) “I can’t believe you guys are defending this,” I said to my laughing colleagues. “I’m all for humor, and I’m all for telling jokes, but this is an insult to Christianity.” I said I thought it was an outrage that my kids would  have to grow up in a culture that  forced them to grope their way past a Festivus pole to see a Nativity scene—on Christmas!

Festivus  just wouldn’t  die. The worst  episode  came  in 2013, when  a group  erected  a Festivus pole that  consisted  of six feet of beer cans next to a religious display that included a Nativity  scene, a menorah, and other religious symbols at the Florida state capitol. Again I spoke  out, appealing  very straightforwardly to American values and common  sense. I was asking a question  that  needed to be asked: Do we think so little of our religious symbols and rituals that  we would  give equal weight to a beer can sculpture  based on an old sitcom? I still think it’s a good question.

I was gratified when the American Spectator magazine published an article by Jeffrey Lord  titled  “Gretchen Carlson Is Right.” Lord wrote,  “Ms. Carlson’s  outrage  was right on target. She is exactly right to look into the cameras and call for a stand-alone display of that  crèche. She understands perfectly what  it represents, and that without the reverence and respect of those values we are all in serious trouble.” Amen!

My reputation as a culture warrior was one reason I got a role in the movie "Persecuted," which was released in 2014. The film is a thriller  that focuses on two rights in America that are sometimes taken for granted: freedom of religion and freedom of speech.

The main character is an evangelist who is framed for a crime  he didn't commit and persecuted for holding firm to his religious  beliefs.

In the movie I play Diana Lucas, a journalist who  asks  tough ques tions. It was  fun doing the movie, but the topic also meant a lot to me.

Every day in the news business, I report on stories just like this. Christians or people of other faiths  are persecuted simply for standing up for something they believe. The intolerance seems crazy, but it's happening a lot more than you might think. The  question "Persecuted" makes you  ask is:  Could the fictional movie  plot ever happen here?

By the way, doing that movie was an example of how important it is to take on new challenges. I really stepped outside  my comfort zone  with "Persecuted." Actors  have  often  told  me they  had  a hard time imagining doing  live TV  and ad-libbing on the fly. Well, I had the  opposite struggle on the  movie  set. It was  very hard to sit still for fifty  takes.

From "Getting Real" by Gretchen Carlson, published on June 16, 2015 by Viking, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC.

Copyright by Gretchen Carlson, 2015.