That has been apparent to us for years as the ACLJ, along with our international affiliate organizations, work to protect the rights of Christians around the globe.
Now, comes a new study from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life that illustrates just how serious this problem really is. The report, “Rising Restrictions on Religion,” found restrictions on religious beliefs and practices rose between mid-2006 and mid-2009 in 23 of the world’s 198 countries. But consider this: those 23 countries – where the violations climbed dramatically – represent nearly one-third of the world’s population. That’s more than 2.2 billion people affected. The worst offenders, according to the report: China, Egypt, France, Nigeria, Russia, Thailand, Vietnam and the United Kingdom.
And the faith group most targeted: Christians. No surprise there.
The report, which is posted here, found that Christians were being harassed in more countries than any other faith group. Government or social harassment was reported against Christians in 130 countries.
We also know that anti-blasphemy laws, on the books in many Muslim nations, are used as weapons against Christians – to punish them because of their beliefs. The report takes special note of these troubling laws: “In addition, the study finds that restrictions on religion are particularly common in countries that prohibit blasphemy, apostasy or defamation of religion. While such laws are sometimes promoted as a way to protect religion, in practice they often serve to punish religious minorities whose beliefs are deemed unorthodox or heretical.”
This report clearly confirms what we find every day in our work. We’ve just completed a fact-finding mission to Nigeria, where Christians have been under attack. That post is here.
And, as you may recall, we’ve been working to save the life of a Christian Pastor in Iran who was convicted of converting from Islam to Christianity and sentenced to death for his faith. As we have reported here, we have been pressuring members of Congress and the U.S. State Department to get involved. We’re even backing specific legislation in Congress that keeps pressure on nations to protect religious liberty.
At the same time, we’re seeing some encouraging signs in the move to protect religious expression and freedom. Not long ago, we were successful in getting the United Nations Human Rights Committee to adopt several recommendations by our European affiliate, the European Center for Law & Justice (ECLJ). The ECLJ recommended, and the Human Rights Committee accepted, that no right exists to protect the reputation of an ideology – rather human rights belong to individuals. The Committee also adopted the ECLJ’s recommendation to prohibit countries from relying on religious law to restrict religious expression.
This new report by the Pew Forum should serve as a wake-up call to the world – especially to those countries where religious harassment and persecution is worsening. It’s no longer as easy for offending nations to suppress or hide these actions of hostility. With the internet and a growing social media, the word gets out – very quickly. And, now, there are more organizations like ours and others that are dedicated to protecting the universal rights of religious freedom and expression for Christians around the globe.