Tag archives: International Religious Liberty

With Modi’s Reelection, India’s Religious Minorities Remain Under Threat

by Arielle Del Turco

May 31, 2019

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was re-elected for another five-year term last week in a decisive victory. The Hindu nationalist party he represents, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), secured a majority in the lower house of Parliament, earning the most seats in the history of the party.

All of this is bad news for the Christians living in India.

Persecution of Christians has grown significantly worse during Modi’s leadership and the rise of the BJP. The BJP advances a growing narrative that suggests “to be Indian is to be Hindu.” The fact that Christian and Muslim minorities have chosen a faith other than Hinduism is seen as an attack on the national identity of India. Earlier this year, BJP Member of Parliament Bharat Singh even claimed Christian missionaries were “a threat to the unity of the country.”

The popularity of the BJP’s ideology is reflected in actions taken not just by the government, but also by mobs and vigilante groups. Militant groups are known to patrol neighborhoods “looking for those who do not conform to society’s religious norms.” For Christians in India, mob violence is a continual threat. Violence against the Christian community has included beatings, sexual assault, and forced conversions to Hinduism. In 2017, there were 736 reported attacks against Indian Christians. That’s up from 358 reported attacks in 2016.

Open Doors’ 2019 World Watch List ranks India as one of the top ten countries where it’s most dangerous to be a Christian. Before Modi was elected to his first term as Prime Minister in 2014, India was listed as No. 31.

At the recent Taiwan International Religious Freedom Forum, speakers addressed India’s use of anti-conversion laws to target Christians and limit the natural expression of beliefs which is part of religious freedom. The provisions of India’s anti-conversion laws prohibit “fraudulent” conversions or offering “inducements” to convert. For instance, when a Christian claims the price for not accepting Jesus is hell (part of the basic message of Christianity), that’s seen as coercive and a violation of the anti-conversion law.

This has already had consequences for the people of India. Hindu radicals have begun to display “a pattern of accusing Christians of forced conversion, which is a crime in certain Indian states that can be punished with imprisonment.” In 2017, Christian humanitarian aid organization Compassion International was accused of actively attempting to convert children. They were subsequently forced to stop operating in the country. The organization was India’s largest single foreign donor and had provided medical care, meals, and tuition money for Indian children.

Christians aren’t the only victims of the BJP’s attempts to make India an exclusively Hindu country. Muslims in India are also fearful about Modi’s second term and the increasing influence of the BJP.

Modi’s right-hand man, Amit Shah, who was newly given charge of the Ministry of Home Affairs in Modi’s new cabinet, has been particularly critical of Muslims. Shah has called Muslim migrants “infiltrators” and “termites” and promised to “remove every single infiltrator from the country, except Buddha, Hindus and Sikhs.”

Like the Christian community, Muslims have also been the victims of Hindu mob violence. They are often targeted because they eat beef, an offense to Hindus who believe cows are sacred. Since 2015, 36 Muslims have been killed by mobs in the name of “cow protection.”

Religious minorities in India are concerned about what Modi’s re-election and the BJP’s parliamentary victory means for religious freedom in the next few years. As people who care about religious liberty, we need to be monitoring developments in India and praying for the persecuted.

The Trump administration currently wants to maintain a positive relationship with Modi’s government because we need strong allies in a region that continually poses a risk to U.S. national security. There is value in that strategy. Yet, even as U.S. leaders continue to work with the government of India, they should make clear in that relationship that the U.S. values religious freedom and that we notice the way our allies treat their religious minorities.

China Continues to Oppress the Uyghurs. Our Trade Talks Can Be a Platform for Change.

by Arielle Del Turco

May 13, 2019

Last week, WIRED featured a report on the Chinese government’s extensive use of technology as they continue to oppress religious minorities.

The Chinese government has been involved in a long-running series of crackdowns against their Uyghur population, a Muslim minority group. China currently holds approximately one million Uyghurs in prison camps, where they are subjected to torture and indoctrination by the communist party. China claims these are counter-terrorism measures.

As technology has evolved, it has provided the Chinese government with more tools to harass this community. In recent years, China has been monitoring social media apps—including WeChat, an app which uses the Uyghur language—supposedly to stamp out pornography and information leading to violence and terrorism.

Uyghurs are often arrested for information found on their phones, including downloading apps blocked in China such as WhatsApp, or being caught with religious content on their phones.

China’s Uyghur population is concentrated in the northwestern province of Xinjiang. China has started to use facial recognition technology to track Uyghurs throughout the province as they go about their day. Facial recognition devices are fixed to the entrances of supermarkets, malls, hospitals, and at police checkpoints every few hundred feet.

This report of China’s surveillance crackdown on one of their religious minority communities is a reminder of the serious violations of religious freedom that the Chinese government continues to perpetrate against its own people.

We can be thankful that the U.S. has a leader in President Trump who stands up to China and isn’t timid on the international stage. In addition to the positive impact religious freedom has on economic development, trade discussions can be a platform to raise human rights concerns and advance religious freedom for the benefit of oppressed communities. We can hope and pray that the Trump administration will use the current trade talks with China to do just that.

Asia Bibi Is Finally Free!

by Arielle Del Turco

May 8, 2019

This week marked a long-awaited victory for religious freedom when Asia Bibi, a Christian woman who spent eight years on death row for a blasphemy charge in Pakistan, was finally reunited with her family in Canada.

As confirmed by her lawyer Saif Ul Malook earlier this morning: After being freed from death row last year, the mother of five has arrived in Canada, on the heels of “repeated death threats from religious extremists in Pakistan, following the quashing of her conviction for blasphemy.”

Bibi had been separated from her family and was living in safe houses since her sentence was thrown out last year. (Bibi was convicted in 2010 and sentenced to death after she was accused of insulting the name of the Prophet Mohammed during a dispute with Muslim colleagues.) Her children are already in Canada, and she now joins them there.

It is encouraging to see Bibi finally released to a safe destination after her plight and quest for justice which lasted nearly ten years.

While this development is positive, it serves to highlight the continued threat to religious liberty posed by blasphemy laws.

Just last week, Family Research Council released a report on the status of apostasy, blasphemy, and anti-conversion laws (which threaten the ability to freely live out and choose or change one’s faith) around the world, and the threat they pose to religious freedom.

The most widespread of these types of laws, blasphemy laws prohibit insults to religion. Featured in many Muslim countries, these laws are often abused and used to settle unrelated disputes—this is exactly what Bibi claimed happened to her.

Even as we celebrate this victory, we must continue to monitor the status of these laws which inhibit the freedom of religious expression. 

UK Report: 80 Percent of World’s Persecuted Religious Believers Are Christian

by Arielle Del Turco

May 8, 2019

A new report out of the UK this week highlights the severity of anti-Christian persecution around the world. Commissioned by the Foreign Secretary, the report states that an overwhelming majority (estimated at 80 percent) of the world’s persecuted religious believers are Christians. It found that “evidence shows not only the geographic spread of anti-Christian persecution, but also its increasing severity.”

The report features incidences of violent and social persecution committed against Christians by state and non-state actors. The trends presented are troubling.

In some African countries, such as in Mauritania, Islamic constitutions explicitly deny Christians their basic right to publicly express their religion. In South Asia, the growth of militant nationalism has been the main cause of Christian persecution. Furthermore, anti-conversion laws in South Asia explicitly prohibit people from converting to another religion, usually to protect the majority status of Hindu or Buddhist populations.

In East and Central Asia, authoritarian governments routinely discriminate against and intimidate Christians. Oppression experienced by Christians in several Asian countries is due to the influence Communist and nationalist ideologies have on their governments.

Even in Latin America, a largely Christian region, Christians have been “specifically targeted” for persecution from illegal organizations and paramilitary groups.

Yet, even in the face of these concerning developments, we have reasons to be hopeful. Some Middle East countries—such as the United Arab Emirates—are moving toward an openness to religious freedom. As evidence of this trend, the report cited the accord between the Grand Imam of Al Azhar, Dr. Ahmed At-Tayyeb, and His Holiness Pope Francis in the United Arab Emirates earlier this year. At the signing, Dr. At-Tayyeb called on Muslims to protect Christian communities in the Middle East.

The Trump administration has played a part in the elevation of this issue on the global stage, having held the first-ever Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom at the State Department last July, with another planned for this year. Right now, the U.S. has other opportunities on the international stage to demonstrate the importance of religious freedom. As we continue to engage in trade negotiations with China, we have a pathway to pressure the Chinese government to cease its persecution of Uyghurs, along with its detention and harassment of Christians, theft of religious symbols, and destruction of churches.

The UK report also calls on the international community to take actions to protect Christians across the globe: “Given the scale of persecution of Christians today, indications that it is getting worse and that its impact involves the decimation of some of the faith group’s oldest and most enduring communities, the need for governments to give increasing priority and specific targeted support to this faith community is not only necessary but increasingly urgent.”

This much-needed attention on religious freedom comes on the heels of the release of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom’s (USCIRF) report on the world’s most egregious violators of religious freedom—which specifically highlighted the problems for religious freedom in China, Russia, and other oppressive states, in addition to the threat posed by cultural and legal opposition to religious freedom in much of the Islamic world. Just last week, Family Research Council released a report on the status of apostasy, blasphemy, and anti-conversion laws (which threaten the ability to choose or change one’s faith) around the world, and the threat they pose to religious freedom.

While it might be disheartening to learn about the hardships Christians face daily around the world, it is encouraging that this issue is starting to receive the national and international attention it deserves. If we do not remain informed, advocate for policies protecting Christian communities, and submit these things to God in prayer, nothing will change.

Arielle Del Turco is the Research Assistant for FRC’s Center for Religious Liberty.

New Annual Report on International Religious Liberty Now Available

by Rob Schwarzwalder

April 30, 2015

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), where I served briefly as Acting Director of Communications, has issued its 2015 annual report on religious liberty worldwide.

As noted by Knox Thames, USCIRF’s Director of Policy and Research, “The Commission is an independent U.S. government advisory body separate from the State Department that monitors religious freedom worldwide and makes policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State and the Congress.”

Individual country reports are available in English and in the national languages of each country. Thames comments that the Annual Report, released today, “documents religious freedom abuses and violations in 33 countries and makes county-specific policy recommendations for U.S. policy. This report covers the period of January 2014 through January 2015.” He continues that the report:

  • Recommends that the Secretary of State re-designate nine countries as “countries of particular concern,” or CPCs, for egregious religious freedom violations: Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan;
  • Recommends that eight additional countries be designated as CPCs: Central African Republic, Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Syria, Tajikistan, and Vietnam;
  • Urges increased U.S. government attention to 10 countries placed on USCIRF’s Tier 2: Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Cuba, India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Laos, Malaysia, Russia, and Turkey; and
  • Highlights concerns in Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belarus, Cyprus, Kyrgyzstan, and Sri Lanka.

In the Annual Report, USCIRF urges that the United States “support a referral by the UN Security Council to the International Criminal Court to investigate ISIL (sic) violations in Iraq and Syria against religious and ethnic minorities” and “that the State Department designate Central African Republic as a CPC. In addition to country chapters, the report provides overarching recommendations for U.S. foreign policy as it relates to the promotion of religious freedom internationally.”

As the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees notes, “With nearly 900,000 people from the Central African Republic (CAR) forcibly displaced since the outbreak of violence in December 2013, the CAR crisis is quickly becoming the largest forgotten humanitarian crisis of our time. There are more than 460,000 CAR refugees in neighbouring (sic) countries and some 436,000 people are internally displaced. In the Central African Republic, a total of 2.7 million people are in need of humanitarian aid.”

FRC has been a strong advocate for the persecuted church worldwide. Under the leadership of FRC President Tony Perkins, we played a leading role in the release last year of imprisoned Christian Mariam Ibrahim, and have held several webcasts on international religious liberty.

To find out about Christian ministries working to protect persecuted Christians and also meet the profound needs of people in places like the CAR, go to the ServantMatch site of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (of which FRC is a member) or the Catholic Charities website.

Former Chinese Dissident: ‘Escalating Crackdown’ on Churches in China”

by Rob Schwarzwalder

May 23, 2014

According to Bob Fu, founder and president of the China Aid ministry and perhaps the world’s leading advocate for religious liberty in his homeland of China, multiple churches are being demolished across the country. The growth of Christianity is causing Chinese political leaders no end of heartburn; in an internal document obtained by Pastor Fu, government officials were told:

You should … correct the phenomenon that religion has grown too fast, there are too many religious sites and there are too many activities, and promote the healthy, orderly, standardized and reasonable growth of the religions in our province… Cadres in charge of ethnic and religious affairs at various levels should see clearly the political issues behind the Cross.

The only “political issue” behind the Cross is that Christians affirm a truth that terrifies oppressive rulers: No one — no government, no leader, no state — is Lord; only Jesus is.

Of course, faithful believers make the finest citizens in the world. But that’s not good enough for tyrants for whom retention of absolute political allegiance is of supreme importance.

As Pastor Fu notes, at the February National Prayer Breakfast, President Obama said he would make international religious liberty a priority for his Administration. Yet the President has left the State Department’s top position on the issue, Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, open for about nine months. As Liberty University’s Johnnie Moore writes, “Up to this point, it seems questionable whether the Obama administration really cares about these issues at all. Despite statements like the one made during the National Prayer Breakfast, it appears there has been little concerted effort to make religious freedom a priority.”

Christians are being persecuted, sometimes murdered, tortured horribly or held in ghastly prison camps, in places as diverse as Nigeria and North Korea. When America defends religious liberty abroad, it stands not only with people of faith but advances her vital interests. When we take rank with those persecuted for their religious convictions, we gain swaths of friends in troubled regions and bolster the credibility we desperately need with our adversaries and friends alike.

President Obama needs to appoint a vigorous, brave, and experienced Ambassador to fight for those oppressed due to their faith. That he has not done so for so long raises serious doubts about his earnestness in protecting those who live under the Cross which so frightens the Chinese leadership and whose message is transforming lives from the smallest village in the most impoverished country to those in the highest levels of government, academia, and business in the world’s capitals.

Pastor Fu shared his own testimony of imprisonment and persecution when he was still in China when he spoke at FRC last year. Listen to his moving remarks and call for American Christians to remember with their brothers and sisters in Christ suffering for their faith — remember them in prayer, in giving, and in calling on the federal government to live up to its commitments to work for their liberty.

State Department Stays Mute on Persecuted Religious Minorities Worldwide

by Leanna Baumer

October 22, 2013

Last week, the unremarkable State Department tenure of Ambassador Suzan Johnson Cook came to a sudden end with her resignation from the post of U.S. Ambassador-At-Large for International Religious Freedom. A post designed to elevate the status of religious freedom in American foreign policy and to move around intractable State Department bureaucracy by directly advising the Secretary of State, the U.S. Ambassador-At-Large for International Religious Freedom in recent years has functioned instead as a sidelined figure in diplomatic efforts.

That is, when the post has been filled. It took President Obama over a year and a half to even nominate Dr. Cook. Once confirmed in the summer of 2011, Dr. Cook’s inexperience as a diplomat and unfamiliarity with global religious freedom issues became obvious as she failed to establish clear office priorities or to respond to countries designated as Countries of Particular Concern (CPCs) under the International Religious Freedom Act. In contrast to her two predecessors who worked within the admittedly hostile environment of the State Department to establish a critical mass of staff and to weave religious freedom priorities into a broader human rights agenda, Dr. Cook remained largely silent.

In an all-too-familiar pattern, the State Department has indicated it has no prospects on the horizon to fill the now-empty position. This marked lack of interest or concern in a human rights issue that is bi-partisan, fundamental to the message of individual liberty, and central to the story of the United States comes as an explosion of violence in the Middle East and Southeast Asia targets religious minorities.

Just this weekend, Egypt’s long-persecuted Coptic community faced another attack that killed four at a wedding celebration at a Cairo church. A month ago, Christians from All Saints Church in Peshawar, Pakistan faced one of the deadliest attacks on record in their country. Yet, these Christians and other Pakistani religious minorities have little hope of their interests being represented in the diplomatic meetings between Secretary of State John Kerry and President Obama and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif that are scheduled to take place this week.

Despite the failure of Dr. Cook to leverage her position for religious minorities, to comment verbally on their plight in countries such as Syria, or even just to show up at Congressional hearings, her departure provides a pivotal opportunity for President Obama to nominate a more qualified and pro-active replacement. Georgetown Professor and former diplomat Thomas Farr outlines the necessary steps President Obama should take to “[Let] the US diplomatic corps and the world know that President Obama and Secretary Kerry are giving this ambassador their personal backing to move this issue to the front burner of American diplomacy.” We can only hope that President Obama moves more quickly to nominate a qualified successor than he did to nominate Dr. Cook in the first place.

A Response to “Why Tolerate Religion?”

by Rob Schwarzwalder

May 3, 2013

Freedom of Religion encompasses more than intellectual assent and private, enclosed worship services. It includes the integration of one’s faith into all spheres of life, such that one’s deeply held religious convictions are allowed to animate, unhindered, speech and conduct in the public, professional, and community spheres.

It is for this reason that the Bill of Rights lists freedom of religion as its first enumerated freedom: The Founders recognized that allegiance to God has to precede allegiance to the state, or else the state itself would usurp the role of God. This is directly opposed to the essential principle of America’s very existence, that our rights come from our Creator, not the government.

University of Chicago law professor Bruce Leiter thinks otherwise. In his new book, Why Tolerate Religion, Leiter asserts, “no one has been able to articulate a credible principled argument for tolerating religion qua religion - that is, an argument that would explain why, as a matter of moral principle, we ought to accord special legal and moral to religious practices” (p.7).

I wonder if Prof. Leiter has every read a survey of Western history, perhaps one that contains sections on the persecution of the early church, the Inquisition, anti-Catholic violence, or the Holocaust? Perhaps he should spend a few minutes reading official federal government reports on the ongoing and massive oppression of Christians and other people of faith around the globe.

The assertion that a “principled” case for religious liberty remains unmade is so striking in its ignorance that it invites the derision a serious academic should find embarrassing. As my friend Joe Loconte, professor of history at The King’s College in New York, writes:

The author seems astonishingly unaware of the Judeo-Christian intellectual tradition and its contribution to the foundations of liberal democracy. The scientific revolution, the concept of human dignity, an ethos of compassion for the poor, the political ideals of equal rights and government by consent — all of these developments are unthinkable without the influence of the Judeo-Christian tradition in the West. (Source: Standpoint Magazine)

The University of Chicago Law School often is hailed as one of America’s premier institutions of legal thought and training. It’s luster has been dimmed by Prof. Leiter’s uninformed and prejudicial rant. However smooth his prose, the absence of logic, factuality, and dispassion - ostensibly the very foundations of legal reasoning - does not deter him from publishing one of the most troubling and intellectually discreditable books by a serious American scholar in some time.

My distinguished colleague Bob Morrison summarizes the case for religious liberty this way: “One’s right to worship God and follow his conscience according to the principles of his religious faith was foundational to all morality. A man whose religious faith was repressed could never be a loyal citizen, since the state was usurping his first allegiance and costing him his primary, or first, freedom.”

Anyone presenting himself as an interpreter of American law and justice who fails to grasp these truths should read an interesting couple of texts he might find rather arresting, namely the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. Remembering the Creator to Whom the Declaration refers and Whose bestowal of rights and liberties is the steel beam of American public life might prove useful to Prof. Leiter and all who, like him, would reduce religious and, thereby, all liberty to the whim of the state, the very thing against which a brave and thoughtful generation of Americans revolted in the 1770s.

Don’t Forget Our Brothers and Sisters

by Family Research Council

February 21, 2013

In a recent Fox News article, the plight of house churches in China is said to be getting worse. The government has increased its crackdown on these churches which pose a threat to its power. Bob Fu, founder and president of ChinaAid, and a former pastor himself in China, said the government is employing “new tactics of persecution.” Please remember to pray for our brothers and sisters in China that God would preserve them and strengthen them. And remember to thank God for the benefit of religious freedom that we have in America. Stand up for religious freedom here in America so that we can be a beacon of hope to those oppressed around the world.

In case you missed it, FRC recently held a panel discussion of religious liberty in America and will host Bob Fu for a further look at the Chinese church’s persecution in April.

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