Posts tagged with: religious freedom

Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Wednesday, July 9, 2008

An update on my post about “Canada’s Faltering Freedom” a few weeks ago: Common sense seems to have prevailed up north, as Canada’s human rights commission dismissed a complaint against journalist Mark Steyn for comments made about Islam, while the same body cleared a Catholic magazine of wrongdoing for its comments about homosexuality.

Rightfully, religious leaders in Canada are not relaxing in the wake of these minor victories. Citing other abuses by provincial human rights panels, Calgary’s Bishop Frederick Henry is leading a charge for reforming Alberta’s—and the nation’s—human rights commissions. Godspeed, bishop.

Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Wednesday, March 26, 2008

In the Catholic Church, the Easter Vigil liturgy is usually the ceremony during which catechumens (non-Christians) and candidates (non-Catholic Christians) are respectively baptized and received into the Church. In Rome this Easter there was a particularly noteworthy baptism, presided over by Pope Benedict. Magdi Allam is an Italian journalist who converted from Islam to Christianity. Instead of taking the common route of doing so as inconspicuously as possible—an approach that is perfectly reasonable given the risks entailed by such a move—Allam decided to permit his conversion to be a public affair and issued a statement about it prior to the event. It is an extraordinary document, containing an account of the working of God’s grace in his life as well as a ringing declaration of religious freedom. Here is one paragraph, in which Allam acknowledges the danger he faces:

I know what I am headed for but I face my destiny with my head held high, standing upright and with the interior solidity of one who has the certainty of his faith. And I will be more so after the courageous and historical gesture of the Pope, who, as soon has he knew of my desire, immediately agreed to personally impart the Christian sacraments of initiation to me. His Holiness has sent an explicit and revolutionary message to a Church that until now has been too prudent in the conversion of Muslims, abstaining from proselytizing in majority Muslim countries and keeping quiet about the reality of converts in Christian countries. Out of fear. The fear of not being able to protect converts in the face of their being condemned to death for apostasy and fear of reprisals against Christians living in Islamic countries. Well, today Benedict XVI, with his witness, tells us that we must overcome fear and not be afraid to affirm the truth of Jesus even with Muslims.

Zenit has the news story here and the full text of the statement here.

Blog author: berndbergmann
posted by on Thursday, February 21, 2008

The head of the Church of England and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, made international headlines earlier this month when he suggested that the adoption of some aspects of Islamic sharia law into British law was “unavoidable” and discussed the compatibility of sharia law with the established legal system.

Williams’ long speech discusses the pros and cons of ‘plural jurisprudence.’ He does not ignore the repressive aspects of Islamic law, but his main concern seems to be to avoid offending or alienating Muslims in British society.

It is no secret that the Archbishop’s own church is in decline while the number of Muslims in the UK and the rest of Europe is growing rapidly. A church leader should seek to strengthen his own flock as well as remind us of the principles that have created the foundations for a free society.

Williams is seemingly unaware of the consequences that such a lack of moral leadership may have. Many Europeans feel legitimately threatened by Islamic terrorism and fundamentalist intolerance, but they have no well-formed intellectual or spiritual defense. The danger is that the abandoned will be tempted to lend an ear to demagogues (not for the first time in European history) and thereby set off a spiral of still more intolerance and violence.

Blog author: jcouretas
posted by on Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Nearly two years ago, in “Who Will Protect Kosovo’s Christians?” I wrote:

Dozens of churches, monasteries and shrines have been destroyed or damaged since 1999 in Kosovo, the cradle of Orthodox Christianity in Serbia. The Serbian Orthodox Church lists nearly 150 attacks on holy places, which often involve desecration of altars, vandalism of icons and the ripping of crosses from Church rooftops. A March 2004 rampage by Albanian mobs targeted Serbs and 19 people, including eight Kosovo Serbs, were killed and more than 900 injured, according Agence France Press. The UN mission in Kosovo, AFP said, reported that 800 houses and 29 Serb Orthodox churches and monasteries – some of them dating to the 14th century — were torched during the fighting. NATO had to rush 2,000 extra troops to the province to stop the destruction.

All this happened despite the presence of UN peacekeeping forces. According to news reports posted by the American Council for Kosovo, Albanian separatists are opposing the expansion of military protection of Christian holy sites by UN forces. A main concern of Christians is the fate of the Visoki Decani Monastery – Kosovo’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Now that Albanian separatists have declared the Serbian province of Kosovo to be an independent nation — and won backing from President Bush — a chain of events has been put in place that EU lawmakers are already describing as a Pandora’s Box.

Why? Because the secessionist move in Serbia is likely to kindle others in places like Georgia, Moldova and Russia (which now much entertain similar aspirations from places like Abkhazia, South Ossetia, or Transdniester). This explains Russia’s opposition to the Kosovo breakaway, but it’s not alone. Spain, which has contended with Basque, Catalan and Galician separatist movements for decades, refused to recognize an independent Kosovo, saying the move was illegal. Then there’s Slovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece and Cyprus. Some Asian countries also view the Kosovo split as a dangerous precedent. Sri Lanka said the move was a violation of the UN Charter. Canada has officially remained mum on the question so far.

For a good balanced look ahead for Kosovo, see “After Kosovo’s Secession,” by Lee Hudson Teslik on the Council of Foreign Relations Web site, and the online debate between Marshall F. Harris, Senior Policy Advisor, Alston + Bird, and Alan J. Kuperman, Assistant Professor, University of Texas, LBJ School of Public Affairs.

But I am a skeptic, in case you were wondering. (more…)

Blog author: jcouretas
posted by on Friday, February 15, 2008
Bartholomew I

My commentary this week looked at “Encountering the Mystery,” the new book from Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of the Orthodox Church.

In 1971, the Turkish government shut down Halki, the partriarchal seminary on Heybeliada Island in the Sea of Marmara. And it has progressively confiscated Orthodox Church properties, including the expropriation of the Bûyûkada Orphanage for Boys on the Prince’s Islands (and properties belonging to an Armenian Orthodox hospital foundation). These expropriations happen as religious minorities report problems associated with opening, maintaining, and operating houses of worship. Many services are held in secret. Indeed, Turkey is a place where proselytizing for Christian and even Muslim minority sects can still get a person hauled into court on charges of “publicly insulting Turkishness.” This law has also been used against journalists and writers, including novelist Orhan Pamuk for mentioning the Armenian genocide and Turkey’s treatment of the Kurds.

In a 2005 report on the Halki Seminary controversy, the Turkish think tank TESEV examined what it called the “the illogical legal grounds” behind the closing and how it violates the terms of the 1923 peace treaty of Lausanne signed by Turkey and Europe’s great powers. TESEV concluded that “the contemporary level of civil society and global democratic principles established by the state, are in further contradiction with the goal to become an EU member.” And, because of its inability to train Turkish candidates for the priesthood, TESEV warned: “It is highly probable that the Patriarchate will not be able to find Patriarch candidates within 30-40 years and thus, will naturally fade away.”

The Turkish Daily Hürriyet is reporting today on a proposed government revision of the “insulting Turkishness” law.

The European Union has been calling Turkey to amend the article 301, which has been the basis for charges against past cases against Turkish intellectuals such as Hrant Dink, Elif Safak, and Orhan Pamuk.

[Justice Minister Mehmet Ali] Sahin, also said the deputy parliament leaders of AKP will decide when to send the proposal of the amendment to the parliament.

According to Sahin’s statement, the article’s new status would be as follows:

Article 301: The insulting of the Turkish people, the Turkish Republic, as well as the institutions and organs of the state

1-A person insulting the Turkish people, the Turkish Republic, the State, the Turkish Parliament, the government of the Turkish Republic, the justice organs of the state, as well as the military or policing organizations of the state, will receive anywhere between 6 months to 2 years prison sentence.

2-Statements explaining thoughts which are expressed with the purpose of criticism are not to constitute a crime.

3-Any prosecution based on article 301 is to be tied to specific permission from the office of the President of the Turkish Republic.

Read “A Patriarch in Dire Straits” here.

Two new Acton commentaries this week:

In “Religious Liberty and Anti-Discrimination Laws,” Joseph Kosten looks at recent controversies in Colorado and Missouri involving Roman Catholic institutions.

Without the liberty to decide who represents its views and who disperses its message to the public, a religious institution or organization lays bare its most vulnerable aspect and welcomes destruction from within. Separation of church and state does not mean that religious institutions may not function within a state, nor does it mean that they can not decide who they hire.

Michael Miller and Jay Richards examine the economic proposals of Gov. Mike Huckabee in “The Missing Link: Religion and Economic Freedom.”

Now of course there is no one “Christian” set of policies on the best way to help poor or stimulate an economy. Unlike life issues, these are prudential matters and good Christians can disagree. Yet there seems to be a growing tendency among Christians to allow the left to claim the moral high ground with their big government interventionist plans despite the fact that history has shown this to be not only ineffective but harmful.

This is the headline from Zenit on January 18. "Chaldean Archbishop Louis Sako, the archbishop of Kirkuk warns that a division of boundaries will lead to more conflict, with Christians caught in the middle."

“He says ‘a divided Iraq will not be a peaceful Iraq.’ …Archbishop Sako fears that possible plans for a Christian safe haven on the Nineveh plain will not succeed. He said: ‘They would have their own territory, but to be viable, the idea of a protected zone, a safe haven, which is viewed sympathetically by the Kurds and even the Americans, needs an end to the violence and remains in any event, a dangerous plan. The Nineveh plain is largely surrounded by Arabs, and Christians would serve as a useful and undefended buffer zone between Arabs and Kurds.’”

In other words, Christians would be caught in the cross-fire between Arabs and Kurds, unless something is done to curb the violence.

"According to the archbishop the best solution is religious freedom:" ‘In my opinion it would be preferable to work at the constitutional level and each area to guarantee religious freedom and equal rights for believers of all faiths throughout the land, including Christians, who can be found everywhere.’
Note: San Diego County, where I live, has one of the largest concentrations of Iraqi Catholics outside of Iraq. They are known as Chaldean Catholics, and they use Aramaic as their liturgical language. That is the language Jesus Himself used. It would be a shame for Iraqi Christians to be purged from their country.

Cross-posted at my personal blog.

Earlier this month Forum 18 published an article that examined whether the establishment of a law regarding religion at a national level would be a positive step toward ending the sometimes arbitrary and uneven treatment of religious freedom issues throughout the country.

In “Would a religion law help promote religious freedom?” Magda Hornemann writes, “For many years, some religious believers and experts both inside and outside China have advocated the creation of a comprehensive religion law through the National People’s Congress, China’s legislature.” The argument in favor of the establishment of such a law is that “the rights of religious believers would be better protected by being clearly stipulated and codified in an objective law of the land.”

The consensus at Forum 18 is that a law by itself would be no real positive step. After all, “Despite the words contained in China’s laws and regulations, what is even more important is how those words are interpreted – which in turn is affected by one’s view on the roles played by laws and regulations in society.”

Here’s Forum 18′s conclusion:

Without an independent judiciary, even a well-crafted law is likely to fail on its first try. Yet, it is clear that an independent judiciary is not possible within the existing political-legal context. As long as the state remains authoritarian, and while the political and legal culture remain unchanged, it also seems likely that a comprehensive religion law will not in itself end arbitrary state moves that inhibit the religious freedom of China’s citizens.

Even so, the implications of a new human rights group in China may mean that the establishment of a uniform religious law is a positive first step.

The current issue of Christianity Today features a profile on the Human Rights Protection Movement (HRPM). The HRPM is an association of “lawyers, pastors, journalists, and human rights leaders across China,” who “are trying out the strategies of the historic American civil rights movement, using litigation, media publicity, and nonviolent protests.”

In “China’s New Legal Eagles,” Tony Carnes examines in particular the legal aspects of the HRPM. That is, the HRPM provides legal defense for those who cannot afford it and challenges the Chinese government on the basis of its own written and established laws. Thus, oftentimes “the Chinese government is caught between its rhetoric proclaiming the rule of law and its practice of ignoring or abusing the law when it suits its purposes.”

This method of appealing to the current set of laws to defend freedom is one that is also used by International Justice Mission (IJM), for example, in fighting the international slave trade. IJM works “to rescue victims and to bring accountability to perpetrators through the enforcement of a country’s domestic laws.”

The basis for the work of many of the evangelical lawyers and activists in the HRPM is their Christian faith. Fan Yafeng, an influential constitutional scholar in Beijing, makes an compelling observation regarding Christianity in China: “We are seeing the intersection of law and religion in China. More and more Chinese public intellectuals say that only Christianity can provide a solid foundation for the rule of law in China.”

What Yafeng is claiming about the relationship between Christianity and China today has often been repeated about the relationship between Christianity and the West.

In a 2004 essay, “A Time of Transition,” German philosopher and secularist Jürgen Habermas wrote, “Christianity, and nothing else is the ultimate foundation of liberty, conscience, human rights, and democracy, the benchmarks of western civilization. To this day, we have no other options. We continue to nourish ourselves from this source. Everything else is postmodern chatter.”

Over sixty years earlier German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote of his historical context in an essay from his Ethics, “Church and World”:

Reason, culture, humanity, tolerance, autonomy—all these concepts, which until recently had served as battle cries against the church, against Christianity, even against Jesus Christ, now surprisingly find themselves in very close proximity, to the Christian domain. This happened at a point in time when everything Christian had been driven into a tight corner as never before, when the central Christian tenets were being emphasized in their sternest, most uncompromising, and most offensive form to reason, culture, humanity, and tolerance. Indeed, in exactly the reverse proportion that everything Christian was attacked and driven into a corner, it gained these concepts as allies, and thereby a scope of unimagined breadth

Later on Bonhoeffer reiterates the point quite stunningly:

It is not Christ who has to justify himself before the world by acknowledging the values of justice, truth, and freedom. Instead, it is these values that find themselves in need of justification, and their justification is in Jesus Christ alone. It is not a “Christian culture” that still has to make the name of Jesus Christ acceptable to the world; instead, the crucified Christ has become the refuge, justification, protection, and claim for these higher values and their defenders who have been made to suffer.

Sadly, abuses of the rule of law in China are commonplace and Forum 18’s concerns about the independence and consistency of the judiciary are certainly relevant. Such concerns become even more pressing in the light of recent moves by the Chinese government to restrict the flow of information about court cases.

But these issues notwithstanding, the efforts of groups like HRPM show that appeals to the existing laws, within the context of the normative rule of law, can be an effective way to work for the protection of religious freedom. It may well be that a uniform, comprehensive, and objective national religion law would help rather than hinder the work of these evangelical “legal eagles.”

As Daniel Pulliam writes at GetReligion, “Those of us who have heard from Christian Chinese missionaries, perhaps at a church function, know that Christianity could change China.” The HRPM is an example of one way in which such positive changes can be accomplished.

Here’s a summary of a piece over at Forum 18:

Economics has a large effect on China’s religious freedom, Forum 18 News Service notes. Factors such as the need of religious communities for non-state income, significant regional wealth disparities, conflicts over economic interests, and artificially-induced dependence on the state income all provide the state with alternative ways of exercising control over religious communities. Examples where economics has a noticeable effect on religious freedom include, to Forum 18′s knowledge, the Buddhist Shaolin Temple’s business enterprises, clashes between Buddhist temple personnel and the tourism industry, the demolition of a Protestant church in Zhejiang Province, the expropriation of Catholic properties in Xian and Tianjin for commercial development, the dependence of senior state-sanctioned religious leaders on the state for personal income, and competition between and amongst registered and unregistered religious groups. Perhaps the greatest beneficiary of economic clashes is the state, which can use both control of income and also favouritism in economic conflicts to restrict religious freedom.

The Voice of the Martyrs News & Prayer Update also passed this along from the China Aid Association:

A pastor in the Three-Self Church in Pinglu County, Shanxi Province was prohibited from preaching and forced to leave the church by the Religious Affairs Bureau. The Pinglu Church invited a Hong Kong-based American pastor, Dennis Balcombe (Chinese name Bao Dening), to visit the church. The evening of July 9th, the head of the Pinglu Religious Affairs Bureau, Zhang Lianjie, came to the church and tried to dismiss the Bible classes and forbid the children to listen to Bible stories. He returned the next day with more officials, forcing the elders to retract their invitation to Pastor Bao Dening. In spite of immense pressure, church activities continued. On July 24th, Zhang came again and announced that a meeting would be held the next day to “discuss” Pastor Hu Qinghua’s leaving Pinlu. All the members of TSPM (Three-Self-Patriotic Movement) and CCC (Chinese Christianity Council) were to be at the meeting. The meeting began at 6 p.m. and the elders enumerated the achievements of Pastor Hu since taking charge of the church. The meeting continued till 11 p.m., but no matter how hard the elders insisted, Zhang Lianjie declared that Pastor Hu Qinghua had to leave Pinglu Church immediately. Pastor Hu Qinghua has left Pinglu, but he still tries to comfort and encourage the brothers and sisters in Linglu Church, by phone, to stand firm in the truth.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, August 2, 2006

Do economic, political, and religious freedom go together? Rodney Stark, writing in his recent book The Victory of Reason, says that “It seems doubtful than an effective modern economy can be created without adopting capitalism, as was demonstrated by the failure of the command economies of the Soviet Union and China.” He also writes,

There are many reasons people embrace Christianity, including its capacity to sustain a deeply emotional and existentially satisfying faith. But another significant factor is its appeal to reason and the fact that it is so inseparably linked to the rise of Western Civilization. For many non-Europeans, becoming a Christian is intrinsic to becoming modern. Thus it is quite plausible that Christianity remains an essential element in the globalization of modernity.

It is estimated that there are at least 100 million Christians living in China. Acton’s president Rev. Robert A. Sirico, writing in the Detroit News, says, “All of us who have an economic stake in China’s booming economy also have a responsibility to understand what is happening in religious matters.” He notes that “religious liberty sounds like chaos to Chinese authorities.”

He goes on to say,

The communists believed the same thing about free enterprise: It was nothing but anarchy and unplanned production. The reality turned out differently. If people organize their own economic lives, as workers, consumers and producers, remarkable things can happen.

So it is in the religious sphere. Freedom of religion can work for all people. Just as a free-market economy was an institution that came about gradually, the Vatican has reason to hope that the same will be true with religious liberty. The first step is diplomatic relations. From that follows more openness and more leverage.

In writing about religious economies, Stark concludes, “Clearly, a free market religious economy favors robust, energetic organizations.”

Acton senior fellow Marvin Olasky writes about one aspect of the illiberal regime in China with respect to religious practice. In a Townhall.com column, Olasky says, “Charitable groups are rare in China, in part because government officials resist admitting that they need help in caring for the poor and oppressed. Chinese Christians, though, would like permission to establish homes for the elderly, hospitals, Christian schools and programs for recent migrants to cities.”

Whether by direct oppression or regulation through bureaucratic registration, religious freedom is severely limited in China. The Persecution Blog, sponsored by The Voice of the Martyrs, blogs daily on the situation facing the persecuted church. Stacy Harp passes along this pointed question from Todd Nettleton, Director of News Services with The Voice of the Martyrs, “If registration is the answer for Chinese Christians, then why was a registered church raided by police?”

Forum 18 reports that even the scholarly study of religion is restricted in China: “There is much frustration amongst scholars with their inability, due to the state’s sensitivity, to conduct research on religion and religious communities in contemporary China.”

For more on religious freedom in China and around the world, visit these sites:

  • Forum 18, based in Oslo, Norway, and is “committed to religious freedom for all on the basis of Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

  • China Aid, “advocacy for the persecuted faithful in China.”
  • The Voice of the Martyrs, “a non-profit, interdenominational organization with a vision for aiding Christians around the world who are being persecuted for their faith in Christ, fulfilling the Great Commission, and educating the world about the ongoing persecution of Christians.”
  • Center for Religious Freedom, a division of Freedom House, which “defends against religious persecution of all groups throughout the world,” and which, I am told, is looking for a program director at its Washington, DC offices.

Update: More news here and here about the Chinese government’s demolition of an unlicensed church building and the resulting clash with protesters. (HT: CT Blog)