Tag archives: International Religious Liberty

Religious Minorities in China Are Losing a Deadly Game of Hide and Seek

by Samuel Lillemo

January 16, 2020

Open Doors released its 2020 World Watch List report yesterday, highlighting the fact that the most populated country in the world has now become a surveillance state, and this widespread invasion of privacy is being used to persecute Christians and other religious minorities in China.

The report details the massive expansion of a facial recognition software used to track people’s movements. Independent reporters also released an article describing the systematic monitoring of social media by police forces, often resulting in raids and spontaneous interrogations of students and public servants. The implications of such developments, however, cut more deeply than merely having a Beijing helicopter parent.

A systematic ethnic cleansing campaign, mounted by the communist party against ethno-religious groups it feels threaten “national unity,” has brought many vulnerable minorities (Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, other Muslim minority groups, and practitioners of Falun Gong) into the crosshairs of one of the 21st century’s most brutal regimes. The expansion of technological tracking makes the Chinese authorities nearly inescapable. Robbed of their ability to hide, and with both ancestral ties and economic needs tying them to the region, China’s minorities now have little recourse but to brace for the onslaught of state-sponsored deprogramming.

Recent revelations of living conditions for ethnic and religious minorities under China’s current communist regime, especially for Uyghurs, suggest that, for some, death may be preferable to what they endure. Either violently abducted or coerced by threats against family members, individuals born into these groups are often forced into vehicles and taken to what the Chinese government cheerfully calls “re-education camps.”

Sayragul Sauytbay (pronounced Say-ra-gul Saut-bye) was a prisoner in one of the camps who managed to escape to Sweden. Her testimony was summarized in an article in The Week:

Twenty prisoners live in one small room. They are handcuffed, their heads are shaved, every move is monitored by ceiling cameras. A bucket in the corner of the room is their toilet. The daily routine begins at 6 a.m. They are learning Chinese, memorizing propaganda songs, and confessing to invented sins. They range in age from teenagers to elderly. Their meals are meager: cloudy soup and a slice of bread. Torture — metal nails, fingernails pulled out, electric shocks — takes place in the “black room.” Punishment is a constant… [t]hey are the human subjects of medical experiments… Women are routinely raped.

While Sayragul’s experience hopefully represents only the extreme of camp brutality, Sophie Richardson, the China director at Human Rights Watch, explains, “I think it’s fair to describe everyone being detained as being subject at least to psychological torture, because they literally don’t know how long they’re going to be there.” Such is not merely the fate of a few thousand dissidents or “terrorists,” as the communist government of China has grown fond of calling them. Scholars estimate that at least 1 million people have been kidnapped into brutal conditions after the communist Chinese regime felt threatened by their religious beliefs. 

To comprehend the magnitude of these internments, briefly consider that the U.S. population in 2015 included 1.1 million medical doctors. Now imagine every physician across the nation being rounded up and sent into prison camps, and you have an idea of the raw scale of China’s program. In the name of “fighting terrorism,” the current Chinese regime has abandoned the role of guardian and become a tormentor of its own people.

Governments, by nature of their authority and scale, have the unique ability to create an organized system of protections for their people. This same power corrupted, however, allows a regime to coordinate its hulking machinery for large-scale atrocities against truly helpless citizens. The evil we confront today is not simply the lawless violence of sectarian warfare across the plains of Kenya and Nigeria, but also technologically advanced regimes like China that have become factories of human suffering, churning out organized misery upon those proclaiming religious faith.

Religious Freedom Day, recognized on January 16, marks the 234th anniversary of the passage of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, wherein Thomas Jefferson took up a cry that was soon after echoed by every other American state: “No man shall… suffer, on account of his religious opinions or beliefs.” In a masterful brushstroke, Jefferson lead the Founding Fathers in establishing the absolute necessity of equal rights for all people under the state, regardless of their faith tradition.

This protection embodies one of the foundational virtues of the Western democratic tradition, but is far from the norm for people of faith across the world. As the U.S. celebrates its fundamental commitment to religious liberty, we must work harder than ever to raise awareness that the need for freedom of conscience still exists in the world.

Don’t miss our Speaker Series event today at 12 p.m. as we host Jewher Ilham, the daughter of a Uyghur scholar and social advocate who is tirelessly working for her father’s release from China’s prisons.

Samuel Lillemo is a Policy/Government Affairs intern at Family Research Council.

Entering the New Year, Religious Minorities Across the Globe Face an Uncertain Future

by Arielle Del Turco

December 30, 2019

A recent Washington Post article highlighted some of the concerning trends in international religious freedom in 2019.

Most prominent is the attack on religious freedom in China, which is especially apparent in the Uyghur crisis. Uyghurs are facing an extremely advanced and well-planned scheme of cultural genocide by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). At least 1-2 million Uyghurs are detained in “re-education” camps intended to strip them of their unique religious and cultural identity. Over the last year, China has only dug their heels in to defend their actions in the Uyghur region.

But it’s not just Uyghurs. Those of all faiths are targeted by the Chinese regime. For CCP leaders, any claim to a higher authority—including God—is a threat to the rule of the Party, and one that must be eliminated or subdued.

The Post piece also featured anti-Christian violence in Sri Lanka. On Easter in 2019, almost 300 Christians were killed at church services in bombings across several cities. This tragedy was a result of a growing militant Buddhist nationalist movement. Christians in Sri Lanka are increasingly at risk of attack, and the world needs to become more aware of their plight.

A third religious freedom concern is the treatment of Muslims in India. The Hindu nationalist-led government has found numerous ways to antagonize this religious minority over the past year. The political party currently in power, the Bharatiya Janata Party, seeks to solidify India as a country for Hindus only—and this is a problem for all of India’s religious minorities, including Christians.

The Post article also points out the uncertain future of Turkish Christians. In a story that’s becoming disturbingly common in the Middle East, the percentage of the population that identifies as Christian in Turkey has dropped from almost 25 percent in 1914 to less than 0.5 percent today. This reflects similar trends across the Middle East as Christians flee persecution. The Middle East was the birthplace of Christianity, and the ancient Christian communities who have maintained a presence there for thousands of years are increasingly at risk.

If you’re wondering why it’s such a big deal to protect Christian communities in Northeast Syria and other parts of the Middle East—it’s because they’re disappearing from this region altogether.

Lastly, the article recognizes Burma—an area that also should not be forgotten. Burma is a Buddhist-majority country, and religious tensions spilled over when the Burmese military massacred thousands of Rohingya Muslims in 2017. Many Rohingya still live in refugee camps in Bangladesh and are vulnerable to human trafficking. The consequences of this event are still dire, and the victims are still hurting.

Going into 2020, all of these religious minority groups don’t know what the future holds. As Christians, we can pray for these people who have inherent worth and are made in the image of God. As people who care about the fundamental right to religious freedom for everyone, we can spend the next year advocating on behalf of these oppressed people.

For Some Christians Around the World, Celebrating Christmas is Dangerous

by Arielle Del Turco

December 24, 2019

As Christians around the world prepare to celebrate Christmas, many are forced to do so in secret. Arrest and punishment at the hands of the government or violence at the hands of extremist groups plague many around the world who simply try to celebrate the birth of their Savior.

In Iran, the government takes advantage of Christmas celebrations in their effort to crackdown on the spread of Christianity. Dabrina Tamraz has been a victim of religious persecution herself in Iran. She is reporting that authorities began to arrest Christians in the last few weeks. She says, “Christmas celebrations make it easier for Iranian authorities to arrest a group of Christians at one time.”

The Iranian government’s main targets are converts to Christianity from a Muslim background and evangelicals. The regime feels threated by Christians who would evangelize and share their faith. Christians who stay home might avoid being targeted by authorities, but any expressions of faith—including Christmas celebrations—can be dangerous.

Christians in India are also bracing themselves amid a new wave of persecution this December. According to International Christian Concern, at least 10 Christians were arrested on trumped-up criminal charges, clean drinking water was cut off for 25 Christian families, and several churches have been shut down just this month.

We have cancelled all our Christmas events in Banni Mardatti village, including carols, cottage meetings, and pre-Christmas events,” said Pastor Raja Bhovi from in India’s Karnataka State, “There is a fear of being attacked by Hindu radicals.” 

If last year is any indicator, these fears may be justified. Just before Christmas in 2018, a mob attacked a small church in India’s Maharashtra state, leaving many injured.            

Some countries go so far as to openly ban the celebration of Christmas. In Brunei, a small country on the island of Borneo, Christians found celebrating Christmas illegally could face a 5-year prison sentence, a $20,000 fine, or both.

Brunei instituted this policy in 2015, while its Ministry of Religious Affairs released a statement expressing concern that any public Christmas celebrations might “damage the aqidah (beliefs) of the Muslim community.” 

In North Korea, those who celebrate Christmas can be imprisoned, tortured or put to death. North Korea is a communist country where the only gods allowed are the Kim family dictators. Christmas is not widely known, and certainly not celebrated publicly. Yet, the North Korean regime has seemingly tried to replace Christmas altogether. 

North Koreans are encouraged to celebrate the birthday of Kim Jong-Suk, the deceased grandmother of Kim Jong Un. Her birthday, which falls on Christmas Eve, is even marked by pilgrimages to the town of her birth. The empty substitute religion centered on the Kim family ultimately won’t satisfy the human soul. Open Doors USA estimates that there are approximately 300,000 Christians in North Korea—quite an accomplishment for the most closed country in the world. 

In countries across the world, any expression of the Christian faith leaves Christians vulnerable to arrest from the government or even attacks from their neighbors. Christians are often forced to either cancel their celebrations or gather in secret. Yet, the price for getting caught at such clandestine events can be costly.

As Christians in the West openly celebrate the Christmas season with friends and family, we should pause and pray for the Christians who will celebrate in secret. We can be thankful that Christ was born over 2,000 years ago to bring us the Gospel. And that hope is a light that no force of darkness can extinguish.

Crimes” in the Criminal State of China

by Daniel Hart

December 5, 2019

The video is chilling. In a recently released clip from inside a Chinese police station, a lone man sits strapped into a metal cage-like contraption that looks like it is meant to subdue a wild animal, but is actually meant for the interrogation of ordinary citizens. With downcast eyes and a timid voice, he softly answers a series of questions from his interrogators, apologizing for drinking “a bit too much” and speaking “nonsense.” His crime? He apparently made a negative remark or two on social media about the police confiscating motorcycles.

What’s wrong with the police confiscating motorcycles?” the interrogator demands.

Nothing wrong with that,” the man feebly responds.

At the end of the video, after repeatedly expressing his sorrow for his “crime” in response to multiple demands by the interrogators to explain himself, the man makes a final plea for mercy. With a bow of his head, he solemnly declares, “Uncle police, I’m so sorry. I’m wrong. I know that now. Please forgive me. I won’t do it again, ever.”

Interrogations like these are now becoming a routine part of life in China. With no civil rights and an encroaching regime that monitors every aspect of daily life, ordinary citizens like this man know that if they say something on social media that the government doesn’t like and say the wrong thing to the police, they could end up in prison, tortured, or killed.

But this is just the tip of the iceberg of the human rights atrocities and abuses that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is perpetrating against its own people. Here is a brief list:

  • As we have written about previously, the CCP is forcibly harvesting the organs of religious minorities to fuel an organ industry to the tune of $10-20 billion, which provides up to 85 percent of the world’s organ transplants (more on that later).
  • The CCP has been persecuting and executing the traditionally Muslim Uyghurs since at least the 1990’s. Today, over 1.5 million ethnic Uyghurs are currently imprisoned in what the CCP calls “concentrated education and training schools,” in which detainees are subjected to indoctrination sessions, torture, sexual assault, and execution.
  • The CCP continues to mandate the number of children couples can have, which recently changed from a one-child to a two-child policy. This system is enforced through exorbitant monetary fines, forced abortions, and forced sterilizations. It is estimated that there have been more than 330 million induced abortions in China since the one-child was first implemented in the early 1980’s. A significant (but unknown) percentage of these abortions were forced.
  • The CCP’s reign of terror against religious practitioners has been ongoing since the 1960’s. Currently, religious practice is being suppressed by any means necessary.
  • The CCP is implementing a “social credit system” that rates the behavior of Chinese citizens so that their ranking fluctuates up and down. Depending on your score, you can be banned from buying plane and train tickets, your children can be banned from attending the best schools, you can be denied jobs, and you can be publicly named a “bad citizen,” among a host of other injustices.

As these human rights atrocities and abuses illustrate, China is in fact a criminal state. The final report compiled by the China Tribunal (which amassed definitive evidence of forced organ harvesting that has and is currently happening in China) makes this conclusion:

Governments and any who interact in any substantial way with the PRC [People’s Republic of China] including:

  • Doctors and medical institutions;
  • Industry, and businesses, most specifically airlines, travel companies, financial services businesses, law firms and pharmaceutical and insurance companies together with individual tourists,
  • Educational establishments;
  • Arts establishments

should now recognise that they are, to the extent revealed above, interacting with a criminal state.

FRC could not agree more. Organizations like the NBA, Hollywood, and other industries that have conveniently ignored the human rights atrocities and abuses committed by the CCP for financial gain must answer to the fact that they are dealing with a criminal state. And as we have repeatedly pointed out, the United States must address these atrocities and abuses in its current and future trade and diplomatic dealings with the CCP.

As Uyghurs Disappear in China, Officials Offer Scripted Excuses

by Arielle Del Turco

November 21, 2019

In what might first appear to be a progressive measure to help a religious and ethnic minority group, China sends the brightest Uyghur college students to universities across the country. But what happens when Beijing is simultaneously detaining the parents of these students to be brainwashed with communist propaganda? Well, the Chinese government has directives on how to handle uncomfortable conversations that ensue when Uyghur students return home and ask why their parents have disappeared.   

Following a historic leak of Chinese government documents, The New York Times released a document that instructed local officials on how to explain the forced disappearance of Uyghur students’ family members. Officials were encouraged to quickly meet with students to mollify concerns and ensure compliance with the policy. Their parents were merely “in a training school set up by the government to undergo collective systematic training, study and instruction.”

Students were to be comforted that they “have absolutely no need to worry.” Yet, they were also warned that their behavior would affect the length of their relatives’ detention.

When students inquired as to what crime their family members have committed, the officials were instructed to tell the truth. “They haven’t committed a crime and won’t be convicted.” Rather, officials were to try to sell students the narrative that the minds of their relatives had been “infected by unhealthy thoughts.” This is what China is trying to fix.

Though guilty of no crime, these students’ families had been caught up in China’s wide-scale campaign against religion. China currently detains at least 1.5 million Uyghurs, a mostly-Muslim Turkic ethnic group, in what it calls “concentrated education and training schools.” Others have preferred the term “concentration camps.” This program forces Uyghurs to adopt the language and beliefs preferred by the regime. The testimonies of detainees report daily Chinese Communist Party indoctrination sessions, torture, and sexual assault.

The leaked documents contain many references to “infections” and “viruses.” But religion is not a disease. And forcibly detaining members of a religious minority group who aren’t guilty of any crime is not a legitimate counter-terrorism effort, as China has repeatedly claimed.

Among the leaked documents are speeches by Chinese President Xi Jinping in which he directed officials to show “absolutely no mercy” when carrying out the party’s policies in Xinjiang.

However, the documents revealed that not everyone was quick to embrace China’s oppressive policies in Xinjiang. In 2017 alone, the party opened over 12,000 investigations into party members in Xinjiang for infractions in the “fight against separatism.”

In response to the leak, China’s foreign ministry said the report was “a clumsy patchwork of selective interpretation” that was “deaf and blind to the facts.” The Chinese government can complain about how their actions in Xinjiang are perceived all they want. The fact is that their own internal documents show exactly what their intentions are. Notably, the Chinese foreign ministry didn’t bother to deny the authenticity of these documents.

This news has prompted U.S. lawmakers to renew calls for the House of Representatives to pass the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act, which was passed in the Senate in September. Lawmakers are also calling for the imposition of Global Magnitsky Act sanctions against top Chinese officials responsible for abuses against Uyghurs. U.S. politicians should use the momentum fostered by The New York Times’ report to take these actions and others. China needs to hear loud and clear that their repression of Uyghurs and other religious groups will not be tolerated by the rest of the world. The evidence has never been more obvious. And the situation has never been more urgent.

Turkey Is Accused of War Crimes in Syria. Here Are Three Questions Trump Should Ask Erdogan.

by Arielle Del Turco

November 12, 2019

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is headed to the White House to meet with President Trump on Wednesday, November 13. Members of Congress have objected to this meeting due to the ongoing Turkish incursion into Northeast Syria, which has taken a significant toll on civilians and religious minorities, including Christians. Erdogan’s arrival on Wednesday is expected to be greeted by protests. In 2017, a small group protesting Erdogan’s visit in D.C. was assaulted by members of Erdogan’s security detail who overran D.C. police. In response to this incident two years ago, Rep. Dan Crenshaw is leading a joint letter urging the State Department and D.C. police to ensure that Erdogan and his security detail “are aware of and understand that Americans enjoy First Amendment rights to assembly and speech.”

It’s a controversial decision to meet with Erdogan, yet this gives President Trump the perfect opportunity to confront the authoritarian leader and pressure him to cease his country’s ongoing abuses in Northeast Syria. There’s still time to set the agenda of the two leaders’ November 13 meeting. To that end, here are three questions President Trump should pressure Erdogan to answer.

1) How will you rein in the Syrian militias, which the Turkish military is currently using in the offensive into Northeast Syria and who have committed documented war crimes and other violations?

Turkish-backed militias are doing a lot of the dirty work in Turkey’s incursion into Northeast Syria. In the ongoing assault in Northeast Syria, Turkish-backed forces have executed Kurdish prisoners, ambushed and brutally killed a female Kurdish politician, and killed many unarmed civilians. Videos and photos have surfaced showing Turkish-backed militia members executing civilians by the roadside—and U.S. officials confirmed their authenticity.

Dave Eubank of the Free Burma Rangers is shocked by their actions. He called them “a wicked force unleashing terror. You know we’ve seen them mutilate girls, torture civilians, yell ‘Allah Akbar’ just like we saw ISIS do against us. So, I would say they’re a wicked scourge being used by Erdogan to torment the people here. And they’ve got to be stopped.”

These extremist groups are funded by and are under the command of the Turkish military. Their grotesque actions are beyond unacceptable. Turkey is a NATO ally; they shouldn’t be funding extremists to commit atrocities against civilians in a neighboring country. President Erdogan should be made to answer for the actions of these forces, and President Trump is well within his rights to demand that Erdogan rein in these militias.

2) What are you going to do to fulfill your promise to protect Christians and other religious minorities that have been harassed and victimized by Turkish-backed Syrian militias?

Christians and other religious minorities have been targeted for attack by the Turkish military and Turkish-backed forces. CBN News reported that Turkish-backed forces are marking Christian homes with the Arabic letter “N” to label them as Christian for the purpose of confiscating their belongings, much like ISIS did.

Turkish bombardments have even appeared to target Christian sites and neighborhoods, including the largest Christian neighborhood in Qamishli, setting houses on fire and killing several civilians. Some Christians in Syria fear that the Turkish incursion will ultimately lead to the extinction of Christianity from the region as the situation becomes unlivable. This is especially disturbing, given that the region Turkey is attacking is led by the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, where (up until a month ago) religious minorities were protected and given equal political rights—an anomaly in the Middle East.

A statement from the White House on October 9 claimed, “Turkey has committed to protecting civilians, protecting religious minorities, including Christians, and ensuring no humanitarian crisis takes place—and we will hold them to this commitment.” Turkey has clearly failed to deliver on this promise. Erdogan’s government assured the U.S. that they would protect Christians and religious minorities—President Trump can remind him of that.

3) How will you ensure further war crimes aren’t committed by the Turkish military and Turkish-backed forces?

Credible reports indicate that Turkey is guilty of war crimes committed within the last month. A statement from Amnesty International noted “damning evidence of war crimes” committed by Turkish forces in Syria. Kumi Naidoo of Amnesty International said, “Turkish military forces and their allies have displayed an utterly callous disregard for civilian lives, launching unlawful deadly attacks in residential areas that have killed and injured civilians.” Dave Eubank also attests to war crimes committed by Turkish-backed forces. “Oh yes, killing prisoners, killing civilians, chasing people out of their homes, torture. Definitely.”

Evidence also suggests Turkish-backed forces have used munitions loaded with white phosphorus—a chemical that does enormous damage and can kill. Civilians, including children, appear to have been attacked by the chemical weapon. Kurdish General Mazloum has accused Turkey of ethnic cleansing of the Kurdish people to later replace them with Arab Syrians in the region they invaded, changing the demography of the region.

Turkey needs to answer for its targeting of civilians. U.S. drone feeds appeared to show Turkish-backed Arab gunmen targeting civilians during the invasion of Northeast Syria. Rojava Information Center has reported that Turkish forces targeted civilians fleeing the invasion and bombed a hospital which had to be taken out of service due to Turkish shelling. Erdogan must be made to explain the many reports of civilian causalities, especially after he promised the U.S. that Turkey would protect civilians.

Ultimately, this meeting should not be a simple photo op that Erdogan can use to show that the United States affirms Turkish actions in Northeast Syria. Instead, this is a perfect opportunity for President Trump to press Erdogan on Turkey’s actions and hold Turkey accountable for ongoing atrocities in Syria.

What We Can Do to Support Human Rights for Chinese Citizens

by Daniel Hart

November 6, 2019

As we have recently written about and discussed on Washington Watch, the evidence is overwhelming. China is forcibly harvesting the organs of its own citizens while they are still alive. The exact number of people that have been killed is not known, but estimates are in the tens of thousands. It is estimated that the organ market that is generated by forced organ harvesting is making China $10 to 20 billion.

As our just-released Issue Analysis points out, these unspeakable crimes against humanity have mostly been perpetrated against religious minorities in China, particularly adherents to Falun Gong and ethnically Muslim Uyghurs.

While forced organ harvesting is the most barbaric form of persecution that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has committed against religious minorities, it is far from the only crime they are guilty of. The CCP was built on an extended reign of terror and mass murder that is unprecedented in the history of the world, so it should come as no surprise that they are using almost any means necessary to suppress dissent—especially of religious minorities who they see as a threat to their goal of total adherence from every single citizen to the atheistic communist ideology.

As we discuss in our new Issue Analysis, hundreds of thousands of Chinese citizens whose only crime is the practice of a faith have been imprisoned. An estimated 800,000 to 2 million are being forcibly detained in “re-education” camps that are nothing more than forced indoctrination and torture camps. China has brutally enforced a one-child policy (it is now a two child policy) that was carried out through forced abortions and sterilizations for decades. The list of atrocities that the CCP has committed against its own people goes on and on.

What the American People Can Do to Affect Change

Despite the obvious evils that the CCP perpetrates on its own people, hundreds of American businesses continue to do business with China. It cannot be repeated enough: China is forcibly harvesting the organs of its own people for financial profit. The proof is as plain as day. How much more evil must the CCP commit to finally awaken the conscience of American businesses?

As we argue, there is much that can be done to pressure China from a public policy standpoint, including official condemnations, financial sanctions, renegotiating trade deals, and congressional action.

But the American people can do more than that. It is time for all American companies who do business with China to demand that basic human rights be restored to Chinese citizens or they will seriously consider ending their business partnerships.

American consumers have an important role to play in this. We can all contact the companies that we buy products from and demand that these companies do all they can to pressure the Chinese government to restore human rights to its citizens. Companies listen to the concerns of their customers. The more we demand change, the more companies will realize how concerned their customers are about the issue of human rights in China and the more likely it will be that they will consider changing their business dealings with China.

We American citizens have more power than we think we have. If we demand change from American companies who do business in China and use our purchasing power as leverage, we may be able to hasten the day when the Chinese people are finally free from government oppression.

Death Comes to Northeast Syria: The Human Cost of Trump’s Withdrawal of Forces

by Travis Weber, J.D., LL.M. , Arielle Del Turco

October 9, 2019

Smoke is billowing from a small town in northeast Syria hit by Turkish airstrikes today, and hundreds of civilians are fleeing, unsure of where they’re headed.

The worst fears of those living under the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria are becoming a reality after President Trump made the decision on Sunday to remove U.S. troops from the area. This decision followed a phone call with Turkish President Erdogan and paved the way for an unfolding Turkish military operation into Northeast Syria, which is controlled by the Kurds, who have been faithful U.S. allies.

Why is FRC, focused on our mission to advance faith, family, and freedom, weighing in on this situation far from home?

Because at risk is not just the massacre of our Kurdish allies, the potential resurgence of ISIS, the reputation of the United States, and another major conflict in the Middle East. Also at risk is the destruction of the one place in the Middle East (outside of Israel) where Christians, Muslims, and Yazidis live in peace and religious freedom thrives. Under the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, religious minorities in Northeast Syria found protection and equal political rights—an anomaly in the Middle East.

Out of the midst of the Syrian civil war, hope sprang in the form of a federal government system that represents and protects segments of society which are often neglected and abused in the Middle East, including women and the Christian minority.

In addition to other religious minorities, Syriac Christians have found safety under the Kurdish-led administration. This is one of the oldest Christian communities in the world, and they are trying to maintain a presence in the Middle East, the birthplace of the Christian faith. Syriac Christians still speak a dialect of Aramaic today, and Syriac Christian culture is experiencing a renaissance. As Turkish forces move into Northeast Syria, we shouldn’t expect that they will take care of this community. Even in the past few years, Turkey has allied itself with jihadist groups responsible for killing Christians elsewhere in Syria. With the present Turkish incursion, Christians in Northeast Syria face the potential of attack or displacement. It would be tragic to these Christians subjected to abuse or death as a result of Turkish actions, and it would also be tragic to see the loss of a historic Christian presence in this region.

The Kurdish forces that Turkey is attacking have been reliable allies to the Untied States. When the U.S. couldn’t find anyone else willing to fight ISIS, the SDF rose to the occasion, and lost approximately 11,000 fighters in the process. The Kurds feel betrayed by the U.S., and that feeling is understandable. They have been consistent allies, and we abandoned them overnight without warning. This won’t bode well for the next time the U.S. tries to recruit allies in the Middle East.

The successful religious freedom and pluralism found in Northeast Syria is something that we hope to see more of across the Middle East. To watch that newly-flourishing area ransacked by a Turkish authoritarian leader is disheartening. If the United States wants to see the prime example of religious freedom in the Middle East continue, it should continue to support our Kurdish allies.

It is difficult to watch these events unfold today. There have already been reports of civilian casualties, including Christians who were killed by the Turkish strikes.

As this situation develops, we need to be praying for the protection of the people of Northeast Syria, and that any attempted oppression or slaughter would be thwarted. We must also pray that God would give President Trump the wisdom to make the right decisions, and that he would ensure security for Syria’s Northeast.

Senate Condemns China’s Abuses Against Religious Minorities

by Arielle Del Turco

September 13, 2019

The Chinese regime’s gross human rights violations against Uyghurs were recognized by the U.S. Senate late Wednesday night with the passage of the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act. The measure couldn’t come at a more critical time as the Uyghur crisis continues to deteriorate. In what one U.S. official has called China’s “war on faith,” the Chinese government is responsible for a brutal crackdown on Uyghurs, a Turkic, mostly Muslim ethnic group.

China has used a variety of measures to suppress the Uyghur community. The government monitors social media, and arrests Uyghurs for information found on their phones, including simply having religious content on them. It is estimated that China has forcibly detained at least 880,000 and possibly more than 2 million Uyghurs who are detained in what China calls “re-education” camps. Uyghurs at these camps are indoctrinated with Chinese Communist Party propaganda designed to pressure them to abandon their Muslim faith and their unique culture. Some detainees who have been released describe their experience being tortured in the camps.

This bill is the first piece of legislation from any nation that specifically responds to the Uyghur crisis. The provisions of this act will require U.S. federal agencies and foreign policy institutions to report on the Uyghur crisis, and how it impacts U.S. citizens and national security. Formal and routine U.S. recognition of the horrors of China’s treatment of Uyghurs will send a powerful message to Beijing—that the U.S. will not ignore the atrocities taking place in the Uyghur region, and that we will continue to highlight Chinese human rights violations on the world stage.

The Chinese government is already getting the message. The Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson responded yesterday to this bill passing in the Senate. Spokesperson Hua Chunying expressed China’s opposition to the passage of this bill and to U.S. criticisms of China’s Xinjiang policies. Though she accused the U.S. of misrepresenting the human rights situation in China, we know that Chinese leaders have a long track record of lying about their actions in the Uyghur region. Regardless of the spin from Chinese officials, their hostile response indicates that they have already felt pressure from this bill, which means it has done exactly what it was meant to do.

While the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act has passed the Senate, its companion bill in the House of Representatives is still in committee. Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) demonstrated great leadership in getting this bill passed in the Senate. In the House, Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) is leading the charge on this bill. As we commend the Senate’s action on this issue, the House should take note and work to swiftly pass the House version of this bill. It is vital that Congress take this step to hold China accountable for their egregious human rights abuses.

Fear Not the Establishment Clause When Engaging with Religion Abroad

by Andrew Rock

September 3, 2019

On the heels of the Trump administration’s successful second annual Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom hosted at the State Department, and in the throes of planning for the upcoming UN General Assembly later this month in New York City, there is ample opportunity to consider how the United States might engage to promote religious freedom abroad. As it does so, perennial concerns about engaging anything to do with “religion” are sure to arise once again.

Religious freedom is a well-established facet of international human rights law. Yet, many U.S. government officials are hesitant to engage on the issue for fear of violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Not only are their fears groundless, but our failure to engage religion as a serious topic when over 80 percent of the world is religious (a percentage which is growing) seriously hampers our foreign policy efforts. If we don’t understand the world, how can we engage with it?

On the contrary, the United States’ promotion of religious liberty abroad does not violate the Establishment Clause. It is well within the law, and an important foreign policy priority which should be advanced through the various measures, including training American diplomats to address religious discrimination as they serve on the frontline of U.S. foreign policy.

The Establishment Clause does prohibit the government from creating an “establishment of religion.” The many court decisions surrounding it are complex and seemingly contradictory. However, a look at relevant legal decisions shows that promoting religious liberty abroad is perfectly acceptable under the Establishment Clause.

The only court case directly addressing how the Establishment Clause applies abroad is a 1991 case from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, Lamont v. Woods. In Lamont, the court found that sending money to a religious school overseas did not violate the Establishment Clause, even if sending money to a similar school within the United States would. The court reasoned that although regular Establishment Clause doctrines apply abroad, there could be more flexibility overseas in order to accommodate a significant government interest.

Religious freedom abroad is in America’s national interest. Research shows that robust religious freedom protections allow countries to thrive economically. Religious freedom also mitigates regional security threats and is an essential aspect of a secure and stable society.

Religious liberty is also a key component of international human rights law. It is ensconced in documents such as the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and treaties like the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The United States specifically declared its interest in promoting religious liberty worldwide in the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998. This means that promoting religious freedom is a valid secular interest of the United States government. Thus, it is not a violation of the Establishment Clause to train diplomats to engage in religious liberty issues. Rather, it is an important way that the United States can advance its foreign policy interests, and promote human rights abroad, in accordance with its long-stated interest in doing so.

Thus, promoting religious liberty abroad is a legitimate government goal that is well rooted in First Amendment precedent. The United States can train its diplomats in religious freedom issues without running afoul of the Establishment Clause. Just this year, the State Department and USAID both introduced mandatory religious freedom training for Foreign Service Officers. As a part of this effort, they will be taught to cooperate with faith leaders from diverse communities and promote religious freedom in the context in which they serve. This is an important step in fully integrating international religious freedom into U.S. foreign policy. Such training will give American diplomats the tools they need to advance our foreign policy and engage with some of the most pressing human rights issues in the world today—which are completely legitimate, constitutional, and necessary governmental objectives.

Andrew Rock is a law student at the University of Mississippi School of Law, and a former intern at Family Research Council.

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