Tag archives: Religious Persecution

Dems Slip Harmful Human Rights Provision into Russia Energy Sanction Bill

by Arielle Del Turco

March 10, 2022

Congress is rushing through critical pieces of legislation, opening the door for unrelated and harmful amendments to be attached. This is exactly what happened yesterday when the House passed the Suspending Energy Imports from Russia Act (H.R. 6968). It’s a bipartisan bill to prohibit importing energy from Russia in the wake of Vladimir Putin’s brutal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. However, House Democrats seized the opportunity to tack on a controversial amendment to a bill they knew would pass.

The unnecessary language in H.R. 6968 would modify the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act enacted in 2016. This law enables the U.S. government to place financial sanctions on foreign individuals responsible for “extrajudicial killings, torture, or other gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.” This is an important law, and it is one of the most effective means by which the U.S. government can pressure officials in other countries to stop violating human rights.

However, H.R. 6968 lowers the bar from “gross violations of internationally recognized human rights” to simply “serious human rights abuse.” And although the Global Magnitsky Act targeted individuals who were “responsible” for these actions, H.R. 6968 targets anyone “directly or indirectly engaged in” serious human rights abuse. On the surface, these might sound like small changes, but the effects can be far-reaching.

Representative Chris Smith (R-N.J.), one of Congress’s most stalwart human rights advocates, explained the issue on the House floor yesterday:

I’m for this bill, but there are provisions in this, one in particular, that should not be in here. Mr. Speaker, I’m the prime sponsor of the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act…. Under the Act, an actionable offense occurs only when there’s a gross violation of internationally-recognized human rights, which has the meaning given to it in the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961. Specifically, the Foreign Assistance Act includes torture, cruel and inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment, prolonged detention without charges and trial, causing the disappearance of persons by the abduction and clandestine detention of those persons, and other flagrant denials of the right to life, liberty, or the security of a person.

H.R. 6968, however, radically strikes and replaces the current definition of what constitutes an actionable offense with language that is not defined and is being done tonight without the benefit of a hearing or due diligence. Under the new language, the president may impose sanctions on any individual if responsible for or complicit in what they call “serious human rights abuse.” Exactly what does that mean? There’s no definition. How is that phrase defined? How elastic is it? Especially when it’s not linked to any international treaty or covenant. What does “indirectly engaged” mean? How indirect? Guilt by association?

The Global Magnitsky Act got it right. It was bipartisan and it linked sanctions to internationally-recognized human rights. I hope the Senate will take a look at this. This is an egregious mistake.

We want the U.S. government to be as effective as possible when combating human rights abuses abroad. However, no one should be able to abuse mechanisms like the Global Magnitsky Act sanctions to target foreign individuals based on partisan politics or radical social agendas. As radical activists continue to redefine terms and use “human rights” to mean anything they want it to mean, it’s easy to see how H.R. 6968 could be misused.

The new language in H.R. 6968 also eliminates the five-year sunset provision of the Global Magnitsky Act. Sunset provisions give Congress the opportunity every period of years as specified to review how the sanctioning authority is being utilized and make sure it hasn’t been misused. If the Act no longer sunsets, this important oversight review would be eliminated.

Global Magnitsky Act sanctions have been used for good in the past, such as when the U.S. government sanctioned Turkish officials in the case of imprisoned American pastor Andrew Brunson. Just a few weeks later, Brunson was released. It’s important to maintain the integrity of the Global Magnitsky Act and ensure it is not abused by partisan agendas in the executive branch. When the Senate considers H.R. 6968, they should remove this provision.

Forced Marriage in Pakistan and Why It Matters to the U.S.

by Arielle Del Turco , Hannah Waters

March 1, 2022

For nearly a year, Nayab Gill has been forced to live with her kidnapper. 

In early 2021, 13-year-old Nayab and her father were approached by Saddam Hayat, a 30-year-old married Muslim man and father of four. Hayat offered to train Nayab in his beauty salon and give her a much-needed job. For weeks, Hayat faithfully picked up Nayab, brought her to his salon, gave her lessons in cosmetology, and brought her home each day. 

On May 20, however, Nayab never came home.

Nayab’s frantic parents searched for their child for over a week with no success. Eventually, local police contacted the Gill family, informing them that their daughter had registered as a willful convert to Islam and had married a Muslim man—Hayat. In reality, Hayat and six others had kidnapped Nayab from her home, raped her, forced her to convert to Islam, and coerced her into marriage.

After a long legal struggle and many nights spent trapped in her abuser’s home, Nayab’s case finally went to court. Although her parents presented her birth certificate, which proved she was a minor, the judge accepted Hayat’s forged documents—documents that claimed he had recently celebrated his 18th anniversary with his 19-year-old bride. Shockingly, the court ruled in the kidnapper’s favor, declaring that Nayab had willingly converted to Islam and married Hayat. At the ruling, Nayab’s parents broke down in tears as she was led by police back into the arms of her abuser.

Sadly, this horrific account is a reality for hundreds of Christian and Hindu girls in Pakistan. Although there are no official records, it is estimated that over 1,000 cases like Nayab’s occur in Pakistan every year. Despite the clear human rights violation, the practice of forced conversion and marriage still thrives in Pakistan.

The newly-updated report from Family Research Council, “Combatting Forced Marriage of Young Women in Pakistan,” exposes the ongoing tragedy in Pakistan and presents ways in which the U.S. government can begin to address the problem.

The U.S. State Department designates Pakistan as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) for its “particularly severe” religious freedom violations—and with good reason. Religious minorities hold a marginalized position in Pakistani society, a relic of the former Indian caste system.

The tension between religious groups provides a convenient means by which Muslim perpetrators can protect themselves from just punishment. Although the perpetrators of forced conversions and marriages are in violation of Pakistani law, the religious dynamics of Pakistan are such that a ruling in favor of a Christian or Hindu victim can often be seen as an attack on Islam itself. This creates an environment in which perpetrators can target their victims and commit crimes with impunity. 

When local police are informed of forced conversion and marriage cases, they are often reluctant to help find victims or bring perpetrators to justice. At times, authorities have even been hostile toward the victim’s family and often bend to the pressures of the extremist or influential abductors. Police have also interfered with investigations by discouraging Christian and Hindu families from filing formal complaints.

Pakistani courts aggravate this tragedy when they neglect to follow fair legal procedures. Investigations into the circumstances of an alleged conversion rarely take place; instead, the existence of a conversion certificate—which is often forged—is taken as sufficient proof. Furthermore, the threat of Islamist mob violence often makes judges afraid to do the right thing.

The issue of forced conversion and forced marriage in Pakistan is tragic. As a long-standing leader in upholding international human rights, the United States faces a critical moment. Continued silence will only embolden those who wish to violate human dignity and restrict religious freedom.

By taking a few simple steps, the U.S. government can go a long way toward holding the perpetrators—and the government that tolerates them—accountable. To start, American diplomats should raise this issue with their Pakistani counterparts. Congress can pass a resolution condemning this practice and calling on the Pakistani government to address it. The United States should also apply targeted sanctions on Pakistani officials responsible for committing or tolerating human rights abuses.

Forced conversion and marriage in Pakistan are enabled by social discrimination, corrupt authorities, and unjust courts of law. America’s diplomacy with Pakistan should address all these concerns. The United States must demonstrate an unwavering commitment to international human rights and advocate for the defenseless. Addressing this tragedy in Pakistan is a good place to start.

Arielle Del Turco is assistant director of the Center for Religious Freedom. Hannah Waters is the research assistant for the Center for Religious Liberty.

Brave Truckers and Faithful Pastors: The Uprise Against Canada’s Champagne Tyranny

by Owen Strachan

February 18, 2022

Before there were the Canadian truckers, there were the Canadian pastors.

In case the preceding sentence is strange to you, here’s what has been happening in Canada lately. Truckers from across the nation streamed into Ottawa a week or two ago. They did so in order to peacefully protest the loss of liberties. Under the guise of COVID policy, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has altered the very nature of citizenship in Canada. Vaccine mandates, forced closure of all manner of institutions, and vaccine passports have meant that Canadians have suffered tremendously as they watched their freedoms dwindle. In the name of fighting a (real) virus, a once-great nation has fallen to its knees.

But it has not stayed there. The truckers have fought back. They have shown that the light of the West—freedom for the individual—has not gone out. Putting their livelihoods on the line, the truckers have acted as men must in the face of massive civilizational threat: boldly. They have not torched Ottawa or anywhere else. They have not caused violence and mayhem. Unlike the riots of the summer of 2020—riots fomented by Black Lives Matter, Antifa, and the mainstream media’s coverage, the winter of 2022 has featured protest of a peaceful kind. The truckers have given the world an example of how to advocate for liberty and defy tyranny—tyranny of a distinctly Trudeauian kind. Call it “champagne tyranny,” for although Canada’s foremost political leader projects a cosmopolitan air, if you look beneath the half-smile and the flowing locks, you see an emerging totalitarian.

The truckers have defied “champagne tyranny.” They were not the first to do so in Canada, however. Starting in the summer of 2020, Ontario pastor Jacob Reaume saw that he could not fail to gather his people for congregational worship. The flock of Trinity Bible Chapel in Waterloo needed the Word and the gospel. Sermonettes on Zoom and text messages to one another would not cut it. Reaume’s conscience told him that remotely gathering over Zoom was no substitute for the gathered church (Hebrews 10:25). Reaume knew instinctively what John MacArthur has proclaimed: “There is no such thing as a Zoom church.”

It is no bad thing for sick folks to be able to stream sermons, of course. Further, Christians do have real disagreements in charity over policies regarding lockdowns and governmental decrees. There are gray areas and hard questions that pastors have faced the last two years, and we have sympathy for their efforts to try to hold churches together in divided times. But with that noted, Reaume and his peers saw something vital: Caesar does not rule the church’s worship. Christ does. To gather together weekly, even in difficult and tempestuous days, even when Caesar says not to, is to render to him what is due him (Matthew 22:21).

So, not long after the lockdown began in spring 2020, Reaume—like many pastors—gathered the flock and “opened the church.” As he did so, he drew the wrath of Canadian officials. Over time in late 2020 and 2021, they fined his church millions of dollars. Yet Reaume and his elders refused to stop meeting. They did so not to spite the government; they did so to glorify God and love needy people. God has commanded that his people gather, so loving God means meeting for worship, which also happens to be the foremost way Christians love their neighbor (see Matthew 22:34-39). Yet today, we are tempted by our fallen world to break the first commandment (and not gather for worship) in order to keep the second commandment (and thus love neighbor).

These pastors knew that Christians need congregational worship and body life, even desperately. So, too, do unbelievers need the gospel. This becomes especially clear in a global lockdown when seemingly every comfort and pleasure of normal life has drained away. One woman who had no interest in church prior to the lockdown visited Trinity Bible Chapel during it. Her name is Jennifer. She was, by her own testimony, shooting cocaine, being promiscuous, and living without any hope at all. She was lost. But her son asked her to come to a gathering at Trinity, and she did. She heard biblical truth and experienced biblical love. God’s Spirit moved, and Jennifer was born again. She was baptized not long ago at Trinity and said these words in her baptismal testimony:

Most recently, I was smoking and shooting seven grams of cocaine a day, and my son asked me to come to a prayer meeting at Trinity. In my small group, I asked for prayer to stop… I know for a fact that I’d be dead right now if God had not used this church in my life.

The ministry of Trinity, Pastor Reaume, and the faithful elders of this church bore much fruit even in difficult days. The same trend—light advancing in darkness—was playing out in Western Canada as well. In Edmonton, at a church called GraceLife, Pastor James Coates and his elders had reached similar conclusions. Coates saw that his people needed the hope of the gospel and determined with his elders and the support of the church that GraceLife Edmonton would not close in 2020 and 2021. For doing so, James Coates and his church were targeted. Civil authorities put a fence around the church building. Coates refused to stop preaching the Word to his people (and hundreds more who came), and for doing so, was thrown into prison in February 2021.

The same happened to Tim Stephens, a pastor in Calgary, Alberta. In May and June 2021, Stephens went to prison for gathering his flock. The video of Stephens being taken by authorities from his family is heart-wrenching. His children weep, and Stephens was hauled off. Alongside Stephens, other faithful men have spoken up and taken a stand in Canada as well. Men like Mike Hovland, Steve Richardson, Aaron Rock, Joseph Boot, Samuel Sey, and Steve Bainbridge have put themselves on record as those who will not bow the knee to champagne tyranny. Still others, like Artur Pawlowski—a Protestant of a different religious stripe than the aforementioned men— have also paid a heavy price for defending religious liberty.

Yet here is something remarkable: the American church has been largely silent about the plight of the Canadian church. Rarely has so much communicative power gone so untapped. Very few pastors, theologians, and religious leaders have supported the persecuted and suffering Canadian church. In America, blessed with huge organizations devoted to the cause of religious liberty and freedom more generally, precious few have spoken in defense of the faithful leaders and congregations of Canada. In fact, over the last couple of years, when Americans (and some Canadians) have spoken up at all about the suffering Canadian pastors, they have done so to oppose them, nitpick their arguments, and generally discourage their bravery.

There is a great more to say about all this. Yet what we should not miss is this: courage is having an effect in Canada, a tremendous effect. It always does. Courage is how movements advance; freedom is what comes from the gospel of Christ, freedom of many kinds. God has done something unprecedented in Canada in recent days, and a nation falling under the shadow of tyranny has awoken. The truckers show us this, as does the massive cross-country opposition to Trudeau’s champagne tyranny.

Truly, at this hour, Trudeau is alone. He is not bolstered by a wave of popular opinion. He who has done so much to mask and muzzle the Canadian people is well and truly unmasked. In his common grace, God has let the world see—in Canada and across the world—the totalitarian nature of modern leftism. It is not “live and let live” as an ideology; it is “do what I say or suffer.”

Here is the story on the ground, then. Canada is not fallen—not yet. Amidst much travail and real suffering, the true Canada is rising. Long may it rise. We ask not for violence or destruction but a return to liberty, human flourishing, and justice. If it is brave truckers who have lately led the way here, know this: before there were the Canadian truckers, there were the Canadian pastors. Man may oppose them, but God is behind them. What is the emblem of the Christian faith, after all? Light has come into the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:5).

And, we may rightly say, it never will.

Praying for Leah Sharibu After Four Years in Captivity

by Arielle Del Turco

February 18, 2022

Four years ago, Leah Sharibu’s world was turned upside down. She went from being a normal schoolgirl in a rural region of Nigeria to being a captive of a faction of one of the world’s most notorious terrorist groups, Boko Haram.

On February 19, 2018, Boko Haram terrorists attacked the Government Girls’ Science and Technical College in Dapchi, Yobe State, in northeast Nigeria. They kidnapped 109 students. However, they quickly released all but one: Leah Sharibu.

The girls who were released said the terrorists would not free Leah, who was just 14 years old at the time, because she refused to renounce her faith in Christ and convert to Islam. The world has not seen or heard from Leah since, but multiple recent reports indicate that she is still alive.

Reverend Gideon Para-Mallam told Open Doors: “It has been almost four years since Leah’s abduction. What a traumatic experience for this teenage girl. But we are grateful to God that she is still alive. The news of her being alive should encourage our hearts to remain hopeful that one day Leah will be set free.”

Reports indicate that Leah may have two young children at this point, likely a result of rape and/or forced marriage to one of her captors. The truth remains unclear, but one thing is for sure—Leah needs our prayers. Here are three ways you can pray for Leah:

1. Pray for Leah’s release from captivity.

This weekend marks the beginning of Leah’s fourth year in bondage. Pray that her captors would have a miraculous change of heart. Also, pray that the Nigerian government—which has blatantly neglected the pleas for help from Nigerian Christians who are routinely victimized by terrorist attacks—would be motivated to locate and rescue Leah.

2. Pray for Leah’s encouragement and protection.

Persecution can place immense strain on one’s character, mental health, and walk with the Lord. Pray that the Lord would encourage Leah and give her the mental, emotional, and physical strength and perseverance she needs. Pray that no harm would come to her body from Boko Haram terrorists or others.

3. Pray for Leah’s family and the many Christians just like Leah who are facing persecution.

One often-forgotten consequence of persecution is the effect it has on the victims’ families. Since her kidnapping, Leah’s family has been distraught. Her mother does not even have proof that her daughter is alive. She has visited the United States to ask American leaders to urge the Nigerian government to help but has little to show for it. Pray that God would comfort Leah’s family while they wait and pray for Leah’s freedom.

Today, Leah is the face of so many persecuted people whose names and stories the world does not know. She reminds us of the price people pay to follow Christ. As we remember that Leah was captured four years ago, please also pray for the millions of others who face religious persecution in Nigeria, China, North Korea, Pakistan, and far too many other places.

The Human Costs of China’s Demographic Collapse

by Arielle Del Turco

January 25, 2022

Last week, China announced that its birth rate hit a record low in 2021 after five years of decline. In 2021, China’s population growth rate was up a measly 0.034 percent, while the number of births per thousand people fell to 7.52 in 2021 from an already low number of 8.52 in 2022.

Years of propaganda and policies discouraging families from having more than one child have had a major impact. Now, Chinese officials are scrambling to come up with ways to reverse the self-inflicted damage.

For over three decades, China brutally enforced its one-child policy, even utilizing forced abortions and sterilizations. The damage wrought by the policy is not just psychological or cultural, but also physical. A Wall Street Journal article on China’s urging of parents to have children notes that “multiple abortions impact women’s bodies and infertility is a possible consequence,” according to anthropologist Ayo Wahlberg.

Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leaders first instituted the one-child policy due to their concern that the growing population would strain the economy. Now, they worry about the economic cost of slowing population growth and the possibility of population decline. Mainstream media outlets cover the possibility of China’s population decline mainly as a troubling development for the rising power’s economy. Rightfully so. China has an aging population and fewer young workers to support the elderly. 

A decline in the birth rate—and certainly a population decline overall—would have high economic costs. But it will also have a human cost; that’s because families matter. Individuals belonging to a healthy family will have a support system when they age. Children and families can act as a hedge against loneliness (especially in old age) and lend purpose and meaning to life. These benefits cannot be underestimated. With population decline, nations will lose much more than numbers.

In China, the ramifications already harm millions. Most Chinese adults born under the one-child policy have no siblings and bear the weight of supporting their elderly parents alone. And only children whose parents are also only children lack the larger support network and community of an extended family.

Nothing illustrates the human cost of population decline quite like the bizarre cultural phenomena it is currently causing in Japan. For Japanese brides or grooms with few family members, “relatives” can be rented to attend weddings. For those who want the affection of a pet without the responsibility of caring for them, robot pets and rental pets are increasingly common. Meanwhile, there are now so few people that one in eight houses sit vacant; so many that there is a term for them—akiya.  

The Institute for Family Studies points out that low fertility rates very directly impact the lives of those who experience “missing births,” including “rising loneliness to aging alone to less happiness.”

Chinese leaders are scrambling to undo the damage of the one-child policy and encourage births, but some think it may be too late. There’s an air of fear in China regarding having children. It’s impossible to believe that decades of propaganda against having additional children (and abusive measures taken against families that do) is not largely to blame for this. Many couples view having multiple children as too much of a burden. Education and extracurricular costs for children are extremely high, and a culture that prioritizes career growth undercuts the importance of family.

Repressive government policies against ethnic minorities only exacerbate China’s demographic challenges. In Xinjiang, Chinese authorities are committing genocide against the Uyghur people by preventing births through forced abortions and sterilizations. The brutality of the atrocities being carried out in this region is difficult to comprehend, and women of reproductive age bear the brunt of these policies. If Chinese leaders truly want to raise the birth rate, a good first step is to stop committing genocide.

After decades of tinkering with population control, Chinese leaders have not learned their lesson. The number of children a couple is allowed to have is currently up to three, but any limitation should be removed. Chinese people—and Uyghur people—ought to be free to have as many children as they desire.

Chinese leaders should resist the temptation to use heavy-handed policies to force a rise in the birth rate. Instead of coercive measures to fix its demographic issues, they should focus on affirming the inherent value of every human life and the deep importance of families.

The world is beautiful and full of adventure. Instead of worrying about fleeting career advancements or economic gain, couples should open their hearts to invite more children in to enjoy it. Having kids can be scary—but they can also make you a better person. Governments don’t need coercive policies; they need only to affirm the profound importance of families, a truth people know deep down but need reminded of. In China and all countries experiencing lower birth rates, a change of heart about children and families can make all the difference.

A Year of Biden’s Foreign Policy: Blunders, Chaos, and Human Suffering

by Arielle Del Turco

January 20, 2022

President Joe Biden assumed office exactly one year ago, and although he declared at a press conference yesterday that he “probably outperformed what anyone thought would happen” in his first year, Americans are frustrated—and rightfully so. When it comes to foreign policy alone, one can’t help but think that American interests are less secure and our allies more frustrated with us than last year.

No Biden-era disaster is more prominent or caused more human suffering than the mishandling of the U.S. military’s withdrawal from Afghanistan. The quick rise of the Taliban led to an economic collapse in a country where most people already lived below the poverty line. Now, desperate and mournful Afghan parents are selling their daughters into child marriages just to feed the rest of their family for a few more months and survive the winter.

Although the Taliban promised to respect human rights, women are feeling the brunt of that lie. Afghan women who served in the military or police are in hiding, as are female athletes. Afghan girls and female university students have been kept at home and out of school, maybe forever. The United States spent 20 years investing in women’s rights efforts in Afghanistan. After one year of Biden’s leadership, all of that progress is down the drain.

Vulnerable Afghan religious minorities might have the most to lose with the rise of the Taliban. This year’s World Watch List from Open Doors named Afghanistan the most dangerous place in the world to be a Christian. Yet, religious minorities were not included among the Afghan groups who received Priority 2 status from the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program.

Meanwhile, our adversaries feel confident testing the president, and Biden’s weakness on the world stage has given them every reason to do so.

Certain Biden gaffes have left policy wonks wondering if the president even knows what he’s talking about. He seemed to abandon a long-term policy of strategic ambiguity about how the United States would respond if China invaded Taiwan, forcing the White House to backtrack and say the policy hadn’t changed. When a military conflict is at stake, Biden’s gaffes are not endearing—they’re potentially deadly. Biden should be taking practical steps to support Taiwan, including selling it necessary defense weapons and welcoming Taiwanese leaders in international forums as the island’s legitimate government.

Ukraine also has reason to feel uncertain of the United States’ support. Earlier this week, Biden indicated that “a minor incursion” of Russian forces into Ukraine might not be met with much pushback. It’s an abominable thing to say when Ukraine is vulnerable and Russian troops have amassed along its border. European allies were flustered that the president would make such a statement openly.

U.S. relations with some American allies are more strained than before. When the Biden administration negotiated a deal in secret to sell submarines to Australia, it effectively canceled an earlier agreement between France and Australia, one that was critical for France’s defense industry. To the French, it was a slap in the face. France responded by recalling its ambassador to the United States, a move reflecting heightened tensions between the two countries.

This month, the Biden administration withdrew its support for a proposed natural-gas pipeline from Israel to Europe, a decision with negative economic ramifications for Israel and Europe. This reversal from the Trump administration’s position is frustrating our friends and pleasing Russia and Turkey. Biden sold himself as someone who would “repair our alliances and engage with the world once again.” Sadly, some American allies in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East might not think that goal is being achieved.

Of course, U.S. promotion of religious freedom abroad—championed by former Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo—is waning. Although Rashad Hussain took the reigns as the new ambassador-at-large this month, the momentum on international religious freedom has drastically diminished under Biden’s leadership.

In November, the Biden administration removed Nigeria from the list of Countries of Particular Concern (CPC) on religious freedom, despite increased violence against Christians in rural Nigerian communities throughout the year. The move gives Nigerian leaders who failed to protect religious communities from violence a free pass.

President Biden neglected to host a Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, an annual gathering of foreign diplomats and world leaders to strategize promoting religious freedom around the world. The Trump administration held two such gatherings in Washington that were widely deemed successful. It’s time to bring the Ministerial back. The problem of religious persecution hasn’t subsided, and neither should U.S. government attention on the issue.

Biden’s first year in office has been full of foreign policy challenges, many of his own making. A clear “Biden Doctrine” might not yet have come into view, but a year of foreign policy marked with blunders, chaos, and human suffering is a shame—not merely for the American people who entrusted Biden with our foreign policy, but for people around the world. The Biden administration’s actions will have countless ramifications for years to come.

Religious Freedom Day: The Biden Administration Is Failing To Uphold Our First Freedom

by David Closson

January 18, 2022

Since 1993, the United States has formally observed Religious Freedom Day on January 16. The day honors the nation’s first religious freedom law, the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, passed in 1786. Like other presidents before him, President Joe Biden released a proclamation acknowledging the day. Although the president’s comments on religious freedom were mostly encouraging, it is difficult to appreciate his rhetoric when many of his actions throughout the first year of his presidency have undermined the freedoms he claims to support.

In his proclamation, President Biden described religious freedom as a “cornerstone of who we are as a Nation” and a “vital aspect of our American character.” The president also said that “protecting religious freedom is as important now as it has ever been.” On these points, the president is right. Enshrined in the First Amendment of the Constitution, religious freedom is central to our national identity. But even though the president’s comments rightly place religious freedom as essential to the American way of life, his administration has unfortunately failed to meaningfully protect the rights of the faithful.

For example, following his inauguration on January 20, 2021, the new president issued an executive order that requires federal agencies to interpret federal laws that prohibit sex discrimination as also prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. In doing so, Biden expanded the holding of the problematic Bostock v. Clayton County U.S. Supreme Court decision far beyond its intended scope of employment discrimination.

On February 4, 2021, President Biden issued a memorandum on “Advancing the Human Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Intersex Persons Around the World.” This memorandum “reaffirms and supplements” an Obama administration executive order that sought to ensure “United States diplomacy and foreign assistance promote[s] and protect[s] the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons everywhere.” What this really means is imposing the far Left’s human sexuality agenda onto other countries, including U.S. allies with laws upholding natural marriage and human sexuality. This is just one example of how instead of prioritizing religious freedom overseas, the Biden administration has given preference to radical LGBT policies.

Another example is a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) memorandum issued on February 11, 2021, which applied the Supreme Court’s Bostock decision to the administration and enforcement of the Fair Housing Act. The likely ramifications of this action could include HUD-funded shelters for battered women being mandated to allow biological men to be housed alongside women, where they may share private spaces such as sleeping quarters and bathrooms.

On February 14, 2021, President Biden issued an executive order dismantling the previous administration’s White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative, replacing it with the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. The accompanying fact sheet revealed that the office would function as an intersectional advancement of progressive policies—a shift away from preserving religious freedom and towards ensuring religious entities that want to work with the government do not operate according to their religious beliefs that are counter to the LGBT agenda.

On March 8, 2021, President Biden issued an executive order establishing a White House Gender Policy Council. The accompanying fact sheet states that the council will “aggressively protect” certain groups, including the LGBT community, in its endeavor to “advance equal rights and opportunities, regardless of gender or gender identity, in advancing domestic and foreign policy.” The removal of the scientific and biological parameters of sex will prevent this council from adequately protecting and addressing the needs of biological women.

The same day, President Biden issued another executive order declaring that “the Secretary of Education, in consultation with the Attorney General, shall review all existing regulations, orders, guidance documents, policies, and any other similar agency actions (collectively, agency actions)” to ensure they line up with the LGBT agenda.

On March 26, 2021, the Department of Justice (DOJ) issued a memorandum on the application of Bostock to Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, paving the way for schools’ mandatory acceptance of gender identity ideology. In addition, President Biden issued a statement on May 17 recognizing “International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia,” which celebrates the anniversary of the World Health Organization’s declassifying homosexuality as a mental disorder. He touted the administration’s work on the issue and called on Congress to pass the Equality Act, a bill that would erode the freedom of houses of worship, religious schools and students, and faith-based organizations.

When he was inaugurated last year, President Biden inherited a federal bureaucracy accustomed to defending religious freedom. Under the previous administration, America’s “first freedom” had been prioritized and actively protected. For example, the DOJ vigorously enforced laws that protected prayer and religious expression. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) launched a new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division within its Office of Civil Rights to enforce federal laws that protect conscience rights and religious freedom. The U.S. State Department hosted an annual ministerial highlighting religious freedom issues abroad. In other words, the Trump administration embraced policies that valued religious freedom and actively protected the rights of people of faith.

Unfortunately, the Biden administration has managed to undo or undermine many of these policies, relegating religious freedom to the backseat while pursuing radical policies couched in “anti-discrimination” language.

Less than a decade ago, President Barack Obama commemorated Religious Freedom Day by declaring, “individuals should be free to choose and live their faith based upon the persuasion of the mind—and of the heart and soul.” The idea of living out one’s faith means that one’s convictions apply to the whole of life. True religious freedom means someone should have the freedom to believe what they want in terms of doctrine and theology and have the freedom to order their life according to their deepest convictions.

Unfortunately, despite the pro-religious freedom rhetoric, the Biden administration is failing to protect these rights and is seemingly working overtime to roll back some of the hard-won protections secured by the previous administration.

On Religious Freedom Day, Let’s Recommit to This Fundamental Human Right

by Arielle Del Turco , Lela Gilbert

January 14, 2022

Each year on January 16, America observes Religious Freedom Day. Unlike many others, this observance wasn’t launched in the 20th or 21st century. Its first appearance dates back to a founding American document on the subject, penned by Thomas Jefferson in 1777. Less than 10 years later, the document was enacted into Virginia State Law, and later into America’s First Amendment.

Much of that amendment animates Jefferson’s views and visions for America:

…no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of Religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge or affect their civil capacities.

The First Amendment—approved by Congress on December 15, 1791—emerged from Jefferson’s writings, and the freedoms enshrined in it have become known as American “First Freedoms.” Thankfully—although not without increasing opposition—religious freedom continues to be the law of the land in the United States.

But unfortunately, as we observe Religious Freedom Day in 2022, much of the world increasingly rejects America’s point of view about religious liberty. In country after country, there are no such boundaries. And today, the two most vicious enemies of religious freedom globally are radical Islamism and communist and post-communist regimes.

In the Middle East, Christians continue to be attacked by radicals and driven out of their historic homelands.

In Iraq, “Beginning in 2014, ISIS drove Christians from Mosul and their traditional homeland in the Nineveh Plains … From 1.5 million Christians in 2003, the Chaldean Catholic church now estimates a population of fewer than 275,000 Christians.”

In Iran, Islamist state authorities continue to arrest converts to Christianity on absurdly false charges. For example, Article Eighteen reports:

Christian convert Hadi (Moslem) Rahimi has begun serving his four-year prison sentence for “acting against national security” by attending a house-church and “spreading ‘Zionist’ Christianity.” The 32-year-old delivery driver, who has a nine-month-old daughter, turned himself in to Tehran’s Evin Prison on Sunday morning (9 January)…

Interestingly, despite ongoing marginalization, injustice and violence, innumerable conversions from Islam to Christianity in Iran continue to be reported, even being called a “Christian Boom.”

At the same time, across Africa, attacks on Christians are becoming increasingly violent and frequent. In Nigeria, massacres of Christians are being viewed by international observers as an unfolding genocide. Stories of massacres, mass kidnappings, and torched homes and churches are commonplace.

Meanwhile, in recent months, after America’s abrupt and ill-conceived departure from Afghanistan in August 2021, religious violence is skyrocketing. At the same time, it has become apparent that an underground Christian community, comprised almost entirely of converts from Islam, numbers as many as 10 to 12,000. The Taliban—Afghanistan’s radical new rulers—are systematically seeking out and killing those new believers along with other religious groups who do not conform to their extreme Islamist ideology.

In Pakistan, Christians and others are imprisoned on bogus “blasphemy” charges, often accused by neighbors as revenge for unrelated disputes. Even when those accused of blasphemy are acquitted or released on bail, they are in danger of mob violence. Such is the situation for  Nadeem Samson, who was released on bail on January 6, though his lawyer warns that “when Nadeem Samson is going to court he can be killed anytime.”

At the same time, post-communist regimes such as the Chinese government continue to marginalize religious beliefs that conflict with the state’s official atheist ideology. Well over a million Uyghur Muslims are held in internment camps and used as a source of slave labor. House church pastors such as Pastor John Cao are serving unwarranted prison sentences after being targeted due to their ministries. The country’s burgeoning surveillance state puts all citizens at risk as they are tracked for any actions that might be out of favor with the government—actions including going to church.

In North Korea, known Christians risk their very lives. Those who escape North Korea and are returned by Chinese authorities are particularly endangered as they are suspected of encountering Christian missionaries and churches in China. One North Korean defector said, “If you tell them that you went to a church and believed in Jesus, they would not stop at just beating you.” Other Christians are known to languish in harsh political labor camps with no prospect of ever being released.

Religious Freedom Day is an opportunity to pause and remember the profound importance of this right. As we continue to enjoy our own blessings and opportunities to share our faith, let’s remember those around the world longing to freely live out their faith.

Don’t Let Biden Off the Hook for the Disaster He Left in Afghanistan

by Arielle Del Turco

January 10, 2022

The media has largely moved on from the Afghanistan debacle, and many are all too eager to sweep the consequences of President Biden’s botched withdrawal under the rug. Yet, the repercussions will last lifetimes.

Currently, hundreds of parents and family members are seeking help for their starving children. Last year, the United Nations warned that one million Afghan children were at risk of starvation, and now many are struggling to make it through the winter.

On the best of days, Afghanistan has a near-universal poverty rate. Now, a famine and economic collapse are making it virtually impossible for many to meet their families’ basic needs. In sheer desperation, some parents are being driven to sell their young daughters into future marriages just so the family will have a few months’ worth of food. It’s an unthinkable choice—but one that some feel is their only chance to evade death by starvation when there is no work to be found.

One father’s decision has him in agony. He told CNN reporters that he could no longer sleep at night because he sold his nine-year-old daughter into marriage. The guilt and shame have “broken” him. Following unsuccessful attempts to find work, even traveling to the provincial capital, he said, “We are eight family members. I have to sell to keep other family members alive.” The money from the sale will feed the family for only a few months.

Sadly, the economic collapse in the wake of the Taliban’s rise was predicted and shouldn’t take Biden administration officials by surprise. The question now is how to respond.

The U.S. government is rightly being careful to avoid giving any financial aid to the Taliban. And although the United States donated funds through international humanitarian aid groups, Olivia Enos, a senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, has pointed out that current aid levels are expected to meet only 40 percent of the anticipated needs to get through the winter months. The Biden administration should seek effective solutions to get substantial help directly to suffering Afghans.

When it comes to promoting religious freedom in Afghanistan, the U.S. government has always fallen far short. The past 20 years of U.S. involvement in the country failed to produce a cultural acceptance of religious freedom or pluralism. The consequences continue. And for the Afghan Christians most endangered by the rise of the Taliban, the Biden administration’s actions (and inaction) were shameful.

Although certain groups of Afghan nationals were given Priority 2 (P-2) designation for the U.S. refugee program—which allows more direct access for individuals to apply when they are at immediate risk—religious minorities were not offered P-2 status. This is in spite of the Taliban openly threatening religious minorities and the number of minorities who would have utilized the program being small and manageable. The Biden administration should fix this error and extend P-2 status to Afghan religious minorities.

When private NGOs tried to help vulnerable Christians, women, and others fleeing the Taliban, the State Department was accused of thwarting these rescue efforts. Josh Youssef, president of Help the Persecuted, helped organize refugee flights out of Afghanistan with endangered religious minorities. When he reached out to the State Department for help, he was told that he would have a better chance of the plane taking off if there were LGBT-identifying persons on board.

But religious minorities aren’t the only people with reason to fear. Amid the Taliban’s rollback of women’s rights, many women who had public professions are scrambling to hide their identities. Female athletes are on the run, changing locations every few weeks to avoid being caught and punished by the Taliban.

Women who served in the Afghan military or police are also hiding. Samima, who served in the Afghan Air Force, fled to a new location with her husband after she received phone calls from Taliban fighters and the Taliban began going door to door looking for former Afghan military members. She told The Wall Street Journal, “Thousands of girls like me are receiving threats, face an uncertain future and are being tracked by the Taliban.”

Countless Afghan girls and female university students have been kept at home and out of school since the Taliban’s return. For many, their dreams were put on hold in 2021, perhaps permanently.

Meanwhile, there are still Americans who remain stuck in Afghanistan. Not to mention the countless Afghan allies who worked for the U.S. military and were promised protection in just such a circumstance as a U.S. withdrawal.

The White House would be happy for us all to forget that the grossly mishandled U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan ever happened. But we must not. America spent 20 years involved in this country; the people of Afghanistan deserve better than to be abandoned and ignored in their hour of most dire need. Furthermore, the American people deserve far better leadership than President Biden has shown throughout this ordeal largely of his own making. By electing Joe Biden, Americans entrusted him with our foreign policy. The resulting human suffering in Afghanistan ought to be remembered as a grave stain upon Biden’s presidency.

Listening to Christians Around the World: Do You Hear What I Hear?

by Lela Gilbert

December 22, 2021

One of many beloved Christmas songs filling the air these days is “Do You Hear What I Hear?” and it holds a promise, “The Child, the Child, sleeping in the night. He will bring us goodness and light…”  

We American Christians are usually able to set aside our difficulties and challenges when Christmas comes around and fully celebrate “the Child”—the Son of God. We are so grateful that He lived among us not only to offer goodness and light, but also the opportunity to share in a lifetime of His love and grace.

Over the past year or two, our country has faced unusual challenges: continuing pandemic concerns, the worrisome shifting of political winds, and other trials such as floods, fires, and—most recently—horrifying tornados. Many fellow believers also struggle with financial worries and other concerns. Still, during this special season, our families and church congregations joyfully gather to sing hymns and carols, light candles, listen to children’s choirs, and worship the Christ Child who came and lived among us, and who continues to bless us with His presence.

Unfortunately, however, beyond our borders, the Christmas story is not so welcome as it is here. In much of the world, the gathering of Christians for any reason is often far from safe. A 2021 article in The Guardian reported:

Persecution of Christians around the world has increased during the Covid pandemic, with followers being refused aid in many countries, authoritarian governments stepping up surveillance, and Islamic militants exploiting the crisis, a report says.

More than 340 million Christians – one in eight – face high levels of persecution and discrimination because of their faith, according to the 2021 World Watch List compiled by the Christian advocacy group Open Doors.

It says there was a 60% increase over the previous year in the number of Christians killed for their faith. More than nine out of 10 of the global total of 4,761 deaths were in Africa.

At Family Research Council, we keep in contact with Christians in places where the decision to follow Jesus Christ is dangerous and—as The Guardian notes—even deadly. In fact, our concerns about international religious freedom have deepened dramatically in recent weeks and months. Just this week we asked friends in Nigeria, Iran, and a refugee from Afghanistan about how Christmas is celebrated in their countries.

Dr. Hassan John, Director of Communications Church of Nigeria, Anglican Communion writes:

For Christians in northern Nigeria, Christmas, especially this year, is full of anxiety and fear from the continuing attacks by Islamist Fulani militias and the Boko Haram terrorist Islamic sect. There is also anxiety for the new year for the fact that the Nigerian government has demonstrated a lack of will to stop the massacres and destruction of predominantly Christian villages by the Fulani Islamists. Many can’t reunite with loved ones because the roads are dangerously spotted with terrorists. Unfortunately, before the Christmas season is over some Christians will likely be killed or kidnapped for ransom their families cannot pay. The world will celebrate Christmas but in Nigeria, for many Christians, it may be yet another season of mourning.

Mary Mohammadi is an Iranian convert from Islam to Christianity who was jailed and physically abused for her faith. She explains:

In Iran, celebrating Christmas—like holding other Christian occasions and ceremonies such as Easter, baptism, etc.—is a crime. But we know this is a very important occasion, especially for Christians. So, despite widespread arrests and severe punishments, they secretly celebrate Christmas in their house churches every year. Yet, every year at Christmas, security forces raid house churches more than on any other days, arresting as many as 100 people in one house church.

Personally, I have not been ever able to celebrate Christmas in any year. In 2017, for the second Christmas after I believed in Jesus Christ, I was locked up in the Ministry of Intelligence security detention center, called 209. I had forgotten the date in the cell. I realized that it was Christmas Day only by seeing a Ministry of Intelligence newspaper.

The regime congratulates in the media on Christmas, but on the other hand, Christians must spend Christmas in detention, and those who have not been arrested are detained in house churches during the celebration! This represents the government’s lies and hypocrisy and propaganda.

And finally, here is testimony from a 24-year-old Afghan Christian refugee. She and her family, who were rescued from Afghanistan, must remain unnamed, and are living temporarily in refugee housing.

Up to now we never celebrated Christmas. Only between us we celebrated in my family. Here, also, no one celebrates Christmas. I hope one day I celebrate it and [can be] proud of my religion!

Thankfully, with wonderfully few exceptions, in our free country, we are free to celebrate together without fear or threat of danger. This is a great blessing—perhaps greater than we sometimes realize. Our problems are many, but the physical dangers for following our faith are few. As we hear the stories of others, let’s listen closely and remember them in our prayers.

As that familiar Christmas song “Do You Hear What I Hear?” says, “Pray for peace, people, everywhere…”

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