Istituto Acton in Rome has released the following video statement from Kishore Jayabalan on the persecution of Christians worldwide and threats to religious freedom, previewing the ‘Faith, State, and the Economy: Perspectives from East and West’ conference happening next week.
This past weekend, Christians around the world commemorated the passion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is interesting to ponder how Easter was celebrated in the Middle East, the birthplace of Christianity and the region in which these very events unfolded. There is one factor, however, that may have made the liturgical festivities less expansive and well-attended than one might imagine: the minimal number of Christians in the region. In the Middle East, the number of Christians has dwindled to less than 10 percent of the region’s population. This diminishing number is not, however, simply a result of natural immigration patterns or conversions to other faiths; it also reflects the determination of intolerant and extremist governments and associated groups to drive them out.
In a Wall Street Journal article titled, “The Middle East War on Christians,” Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Ron Prosor, explains that in Iraq alone over the past 10 years, “nearly two-thirds of Iraq’s 1.5 million Christians have been driven from their homes.” Prosor then adds:
Are you confused about religious liberty? Can I do this or say that without losing my job, a friendship, my freedom? Will I get my kid taken away from me? Is there a difference between freedom of religion and freedom of worship? Yeah, we’re all a little confused.
At least we’re in good company. Peter Lawler is confused as well, and he shares his confusion at The Federalist. Of course, everyone agrees that church and state should be separate, says Lawler, but then things get wonky. At one point in American history, we could say that the majority of Americans shared some common religious values, especially regarding marriage and family, regardless of our faith. That’s clearly not the case any longer. In fact, Lawler claims, there are more and more Americans who believe that religion is a spoiler: it gets in the way of freedom.
More and more Americans—although still a fairly small minority—agree with our “new atheists” that “religion spoils everything,” that almost all of the repressive pathologies that have distorted the world can be traced to religious authority. A great number of Americans have proudly moved from the conformism of organized religion into an allegedly more spiritual or privatized realm of personalized belief, which skeptics call the “religion of me,” just as some have moved away from personal religion altogether in the direction of pantheism and kinds of Buddhism.
Perhaps it’s because we Americans are still getting over Christmas, or talking about the Super Bowl, but National Religious Freedom Day doesn’t get a lot of press. But indeed: January 16 is National Religious Freedom Day, adopted originally by the state of Virginia and now remembered annually by the White House. Penned by Thomas Jefferson, the Statute for Religious Freedom reads, in part:
Be it enacted by General Assembly that 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. And though we well know that this Assembly elected by the people for the ordinary purposes of Legislation only, have no power to restrain the acts of succeeding Assemblies constituted with powers equal to our own, and that therefore to declare this act irrevocable would be of no effect in law; yet we are free to declare, and do declare that the rights hereby asserted, are of the natural rights of mankind, and that if any act shall be hereafter passed to repeal the present or to narrow its operation, such act will be an infringement of natural right.
To view a statue, holy card or icon of a martyr is one thing. To view the death of a believer, in bloody reality, is another. We can clean up the vision, but the ugly truth of martyrdom is grotesque. According to Open Doors, a ministry which serves persecuted Christians worldwide, martyrdom is a real and current crisis.
Open Doors lists the ten currently most dangerous places for Christians are:
- North Korea
- Saudi Arabia
Cairo is an amazing place. I lived and went to school in this city of over 9 million in the early 1990s. On top of the recent governmental conflict and unrest, it’s a city that has for a long time been devastated by pollution and environmental problems. The smog alone is a constant irritant to the senses.
During my time in Cairo, one of the most dramatic and life-changing events was visiting “Garbage City.” This neighborhood is where many of the Zabaleen people live and they have been sorting the trash in Cairo and using their entrepreneurial skills for decades. To see so many people living in that kind of poverty put my own life and blessings into perspective. When I heard that they were a Christian community, at that point their plight and just the blessing of being an American became very clear. I’ve talked about the Zabaleen people before on the PowerBlog. Because of their Christian faith, they have also been maligned and marginalized in Egypt. They were even forced to destroy their vast drove of pigs (300,000) because of a swine flu outbreak, even though the pigs had no role in the outbreak. The pigs were instrumental in the garbage recycling process for Cairo. Their absence has been detrimental to the excessive amounts of rotting food in the streets.
A few weeks ago, The Guardian ran an excellent story on what the Zabaleen people mean for Cairo and how the new government is aiming to finally give them official status for Cairo’s cleanup. It explains why they are so essential to the success of Cairo. Below is an excerpt from the piece:
“It’s an aberration. Over the years the Zabaleen have created an efficient ecosystem that is both viable and profitable, with a recycling capacity of almost 100 percent. It provides work for women and young people who are the first to suffer from Egypt’s unemployment. We need to use this local organisation,” said Leila Iskandar, who became minister of the environment after the fall of Morsi in July. She has worked for years with organisations in the working-class neighbourhood of Manchiet Nasser, where about 65,000 Zabaleen live. (more…)
The fight against global terrorism is a battle of ideas as much as brawn, says Robert George, and environments that promote freedom of thought and belief empower moderate ideas and voices to denounce extremist hatred and violence:
Central to this effort is understanding two things. First, extremist groups seek to capitalize on the fact that religion plays a critical role in the lives of billions. Nearly 84 percent of the world’s population has some religious affiliation. In many areas of the world, including the African continent, religion matters greatly.
Second, people across Africa (and elsewhere), Muslim and non-Muslim alike, are rejecting the hijacking of religion by these extremists. For some, this rejection has come from bitter personal experience. Wherever violent religious extremist groups have held sway, be it central Somalia or elsewhere, they have penetrated every nook and cranny of human endeavor, imposing their will on families and communities in horrific ways. In many instances, they have banned routine activities such as listening to music and watching television. They have crushed all forms of religious expression other than their own, even seeking to destroy historic Islamic religious sites. They have imposed barbaric punishments on dissenters, from floggings and stonings to beheadings and amputations.
As a result, especially in places where these forces operate, people want an alternative: They want the right to honor their own beliefs and act peacefully on them. And as a number of scholars in recent years have shown, societies where this right to religious freedom is recognized and protected are more peaceful, prosperous, and free of destabilizing terror.
The Very Reverend Dr. Chad Hatfield, Chancellor of St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, echoed the Rabbi Cohen’s statements, telling CNA that “I think that there is a clamp-down on religious liberty in this country, but it’s so incredibly simple that we aren’t catching the signs.”
“If one religious identity’s freedoms are taken, then all suffer,” he added.
He warned, however, against over-correction, such as moves by the Russian Orthodox Church to establish Russian Orthodoxy as the official state religion. “There is a problem when the Church relies on the fist of Caesar to protect it rather than the loving hand of Jesus,” he cautioned, although he noted that “the government should guarantee us our freedom to express ourselves.”
Read “Diverse faith leaders unite over religious freedom concerns” at the Catholic News Agency.
As part of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) “Fortnight For Freedom” campaign, the USCCB has enumerated a number of threats to Americans’ religious liberty. Besides the on-going battle with the Obama Administration regarding the HHS mandate and the gutting of funding to Catholic programs that fight human trafficking, the bishops want us to be aware of these perils to religious liberty:
- Catholic foster care and adoption services. Boston, San Francisco, the District of Columbia, and the State of Illinois have driven local Catholic Charities out of the business of providing adoption or foster care services—by revoking their licenses, by ending their government contracts, or both—because those Charities refused to place children with same-sex couples or unmarried opposite-sex couples who cohabit.
- State immigration laws. Several states have recently passed laws that forbid what they deem as “harboring” of undocumented immigrants—and what the Church deems Christian charity and pastoral care to these immigrants.
- Discrimination against small church congregations. New York City adopted a policy that barred the Bronx Household of Faith and other churches from renting public schools on weekends for worship services, even though non-religious groups could rent the same schools for many other uses. Litigation in this case continues.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom’s Annual Report has been published. The commission places countries in three “tiers”, with tier one being nations that are designated “countries of particular concern” in terms of religious freedom. In this year’s report, these nations include China, North Korea and Saudi Arabia, among twelve others.
In China for instance, the report notes the following:
The Chinese government continues to perpetrate particularly severe violations of the freedom of thought, conscience, and religion or belief. Religious groups and individuals considered to threaten national security or social harmony, or whose practices are deemed beyond the vague legal definition of “normal religious activities,” are illegal and face severe restrictions, harassment, detention, imprisonment, and other abuses. Religious freedom conditions for Tibetan Buddhists and Uighur Muslims remain particularly acute, as the government broadened its efforts to discredit and imprison religious leaders, control the selection of clergy, ban certain religious gatherings, and control the distribution of religious literature by members of these groups. The government also detained over a thousand unregistered Protestants in the past year, closed “illegal” meeting points, and prohibited public worship activities. Unregistered Catholic clergy remain in detention or disappeared.