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All Across the World, Christians Are Deprived of the Right to Religious Freedom, and Suffer for It

07/05/2014 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) – On July 4, 1776, a nation was created under the auspices that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Perhaps the most famous of Jefferson’s recorded words, that fundamental clause of the Declaration of Independence ushered into existence a new nation that would establish as its pillars a number of enumerated rights, each founded upon the underlying principle of freedom of conscience.

While not explicitly stated in those words we now regularly invoke, Jefferson is infamous for penning many an eloquent argument for the respect of “the first freedom,” which reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

Enshrined in our very constitution, the right to freedom of religion maintains to this day Americans’ ability to associate freely with the religion of their choice, exercise their faith publicly and privately, and congregate without fear of retribution nor prohibition by the state. Yesterday—a day of commemoration and celebration of these and the many other freedoms we enjoy as Americans—should serve as a day to remember those who, throughout much of the world, cannot freely choose their religion, are forced to exercise their faith in fear, and are barred from meeting with like-minded believers.

From Africa to Asia to the Middle East, Christians throughout much of the world are relegated to the shadows under repressive policies implemented by oppressive regimes, live in communities plagued by violence fueled by fundamental and nationalistic ideologies, and outcast by neighbors and colleagues for practicing the “wrong” religion and maintaining the “wrong” beliefs.

Sub-Saharan Africa

SUDAN Throughout Sudan, hundreds of thousands of Christians continue to suffer at the hands of a regime that has promised to institute a “purely Islamic” society. Not only are Christians and other religious minorities subject to punishments inspired by Sharia law, conversion from Islam is punishable by death. In a case exemplary of the struggle for religious freedom in Sudan, Meriam Ibrahim and her family remain held against their will in a country that has deemed their Christian faith illegal. Pray for the future of Sudan, that its leadership would be lead to recognize every human’s right to worship freely, and that Meriam would be set free!
NIGERIA Boko Haram continues to pose an immense threat to the Church in northern Nigeria. The victims of abduction, sexual abuse and brutal acts of violence, Nigerian Christians are on the frontlines of a battle against the spread of fundamentalist Islam on the backs of camo-clad militants. Across the 5-15 window, Christians are being driven from their homes, livelihoods and faith communities by extremists set on establishing Islamic caliphates. It’s been made clear in northern Nigeria: Christians are not welcome, and the price of staying could be one’s life or the lives of loved ones. Pray for peace in Nigeria and security for its faithful.

ERITREA Known as “The Great Prison” and the “North Korea of Africa,” Christians in the East African nation of Eritrea continue to suffer arbitrary imprisonment, forced national conscription, unannounced search and seizure, and even torture at the hands of Isaias Afwerki, one of the world’s most tyrannical dictators. As many as 10,000 Christians are believed to be held in Eritrean prisons for the expression of their faith. Crammed by the dozens into shipping containers in the North African desert, prisoners are deprived of water, tortured, and even forced to recant their faith. Pray freedom and restoration over Eritrea’s Christians.

Central Asia

KAZAKHSTAN While Kazakhstan promotes itself as a country with religious freedom, actions tell another story. Christians live in fear, never quite sure when they will find themselves in trouble, fined or imprisoned for their faith. Churches are required to have paperwork signed by both parents granting permission for their child to attend Sunday School. A pastor may only preach at his own church and nowhere else. In fact, it is illegal for a foreigner to come into the country and speak in a church or other religious setting without permission from the government. ICC has received reports of a hotline which people are encouraged to call to report their neighbors if they suspect they are hosting people in their home for prayer, or to sing religious songs, both of which are illegal without government permission-which is only rarely granted. Religious material is censored and restricted, with exorbitant fines and jail time for those found with non-government sanctioned books and pamphlets.

KYRGYZSTAN Christians, while told they have the right to religious freedom, find themselves denied many basic rights, including the ability to bury their dead as they see fit. Many Christians are refused land to bury their loved ones and are told they must first deny their faith and convert to Islam. Some search for as long as a week and are forced to bury their dead in the mountains or falsely convert simply to bury their father or mother in their family’s plot. This is only one of the many struggles Christians face in Kyrgyzstan; others include children being berated in class by their teachers and families being refused employment. Reports of abuse even include the martyrdoms of entire families doused with gasoline and set ablaze, and a priest beheaded by an angry crowd on his doorstep. And in all of these horrendous act of religiously-motivated violence, the attackers operated with total impunity. Justice has never been served.

The Far East

CHINA Local officials in China have launched a systematic anti-church campaign. In just two months, over 360 church crosses in Zhejiang Province alone have been completely or partially demolished under the guise of “removing or modifying illegal constructions.” Watch exclusive footage obtained by International Christian Concern (ICC) that documents Chinese Christians tearfully singing hymns while their church’s precious cross was removed by a government crane last week. View the full video here.

NORTH KOREA Officials in North Korea plan to charge an American tourist, Jeffrey Fowle, with “perpetrating hostile acts” after he apparently left a Bible in his hotel room. North Korea, regularly referred to as the “Hermit Kingdom,” is considered by many to be the most closed society in the world. In attempting to prevent foreign ideologies like Christianity from taking root amongst a people plagued by famine, poor healthcare, and widespread poverty, North Korea has sentenced missionaries to forced labor, infiltrated places of worship with government agents, and banned Christian literature.

LAOS Long antagonistic of Christians both socially and politically, Laotian officials charged five Christians last week with murder for praying for a woman who recently passed away after a two-year battle with severe illness. Following the woman’s death, local officials forced the family of the deceased to conduct a ritualistic Buddhist funeral, rather than the traditional Christian burial their mother had prescribed in her will and testament.

The Middle East

IRAN The government continues its crackdown on the Iranian house churches. Attending church has been labeled as waging “soft war” and posing a threat to national security. Dozens of Iranian Christians will spend the Fourth of July weekend in prison because the government is afraid of what they believe. Pray for American pastor Saeed Abedini and others like Vahid Hakkani, Benham Irani and some 40 other Christians behind bars for their faith.

EGYPT In just the past two weeks, three Egyptians have been convicted on charges of blasphemy or inciting sectarian violence. Their crimes? One man “liked” a Facebook page, another reported information about churches being attacked, and the third, a woman, was teaching about the religious history of Egypt. For these far-from-criminal acts, three Christians face fines and prison sentences of up to six years.

IRAQ/SYRIA The Syrian civil war, now into its fourth year, has turned into a battle against Islamic extremists who already have claimed the establishment of an Islamic state in the birthplace of Christianity. What of the millions of Christians who call Iraq and Syria home? There are Christian communities that have been living in these lands for nearly 2,000 years. Also, there are thousands of Muslim-background believers (MBBs) who have come to faith in Christ. All of them face the choice of whether to stay or go, whether to publically identify as Christians or to attempt to remain quiet. These communities are on the brink of disappearing. Pray for wisdom, boldness, and courage in the midst of these incredible hardships.

What We Can Do

Living in the United States, Americans have the unique ability not only to access tremendous amounts of information on religious persecution around the world, but we also have the ability to do something about it. First and foremost, we can pray freely for the courage, safety and deliverance of those who have been criticized, attacked, or imprisoned on the basis of their religious identity. Secondly, we can speak out for those who have no voice by sharing news of what’s happening through social media and by contacting our members of Congress to let them know how concerned we are for the persecuted. Thirdly, we can give of our time and resources, either through volunteering or direct giving, to organizations that provide much-needed assistance to those who are hurting most because of their faith.

Sadly, though, many of us-as Americans-fail to recognize the importance of our country promoting religious freedom around the world. We often don’t realize that when the United States speaks up boldly on behalf of the persecuted, Christians are set free from death row and attacks on churches come to a halt. That’s why ICC is constantly advocating on behalf of persecuted Christians around the world with Congress, the White House and the U.S. State Department.

Unfortunately, for the past several years, our government has relegated the promotion of international religious freedom to one of its lowest foreign policy priorities.

Given that the Christian population of some nations in the Middle East currently look to be on the edge of extinction, a congressional effort to create a Special Envoy to the Near East and South Central Asia could not come at a more crucial time. But, fueled by partisan politics, two Senators are utilizing every resource to quash any chance for congressional approval of the envoy at the immense cost of the possible eradication of Middle East Christians.

Similarly, the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) of 1998 created the United States International Religious Freedom Office to monitor and take action against violations of religious freedom around the world. The head position of that office, the “Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom,” has been left vacant for nine long months. Even though many have called on President Obama to quickly appoint a nominee, the president has failed to so.

As one of the most famous Christian martyrs of the 20th century, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, once said, “Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” As we celebrate our unprecedented freedoms in this great nation, we cannot forget those whose freedom to worship has been stripped away. Let us speak, and let us act, and let us call on the leadership of this great nation to do the same so that millions of others may one day enjoy the same freedoms and unalienable rights we cherish so dearly.

ICC’s Regional Manager for Africa, Cameron Thomas, ICC’s Regional Manager for the Far East, Sooyoung Kim, ICC’s Regional Manager for Asia, Corey Bailey, ICC’s Regional Manager for the Middle East, Todd Daniels, and ICC’s Advocacy Director, Isaac Six, contributed to this article.

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