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Martyrdom today-Persecution of Christians continues

(Fredicksburg Times) LONG IS THE list of Christian martyrs through the ages who followed the self-sacrificial path of Jesus of Nazareth. Alas, outright persecution of Christians is hardly a historic footnote: More died for their faith in the 20th century than ever before, and this new century may be bloodier still.

In 2006, secular and religious enemies of the creed martyred an estimated 150,000 Christians around the globe. Others were raped, kidnapped, or jailed. Most disturbing, finds a new report by International Christian Concern, is that some of the most overt persecution took place in countries deemed allies of the USA .

The ICC report, “Hall of Shame 2007: The World’s Ten Worst Persecutors of Christians,” is well grounded: The nations cited mirror those highlighted in the U.S. State Department’s list of Countries of Particular Concern that brutally clamp down on religious freedom. Trend lines, points out ICC, show that the most egregious mistreatment of Christians is shifting from communist to Islamic states. The 10 worst offenders: North Korea , Ethiopia , Iraq , Iran , Saudi Arabia , Eritrea , China , Somalia , Vietnam , and Pakistan . Here are just a few samples of what avowed Christians suffered in those countries in 2006:

Iraq : Christians are the targets of widespread violence by nongovernmental actors. For example, in Mosul , terrorists kidnapped a priest, whom they proceeded to behead, disembowel, and otherwise mutilate. Intense persecution has caused an exodus of Christians, whose population has fallen from 1.4 million in 1980 to between 250,000 and 500,000 today.

Saudi Arabia : The Ministry of Religious Endowments issued a fatwa banning construction of Christian churches. Christians are regularly imprisoned or deported, and textbooks demonize Christianity. Also, Saudi Arabia is the main source of funding for the world’s maddrassas–religious boarding schools where hatred is Course No. 1 on the curriculum.

Somalia : Both governmental and private persecution abound. Officials in 2006 announced that anyone who does not pray five times a day to Allah will be considered an infidel and subject to death. To openly declare one’s faith in Christ is to flirt with suicide.

Iran : This is one of the worst countries for official policies of hate toward Christians. Examples include the torture and execution of a Christian pastor for converting to Christianity from Islam and the imprisonment of a citizen for giving his son a Christian name. In an apparent tip of the hat to Adolf Hitler, the Iranian parliament passed a law mandating that religious minorities wear color-coded ID badges.

Eritrea : Christians are routinely arrested, beaten, and tortured, and their property is confiscated or destroyed.

China : Unauthorized meetings of Christians are vigorously disrupted if discovered. Christian pastors are beaten, believers arrested, and property confiscated.

The list is long and frightening, whatever one’s faith. Americans of good conscience must speak out against such violence and demand of our own government policies that don’t empower regimes of hate and intolerance.

Yes, that can be dicey. We need help from Pakistan to fight al-Qaida and from the Saudis on a number of fronts, including our efforts to moderate OPEC.

In the end, though, U.S. policy must support the quintessentially American notion of freedom of belief, celebrated in Fredericksburg just this past weekend. As Virginia House of Delegates Speaker Bill Howell noted on that occasion, “Without [religious freedom], no other freedom can exist.”