The beach is usually a tranquil scene, but on a distant Libyan shore, it was anything but. Men with guns slung over their shoulders led a human chain to the sand, eventually staining the surf with the blood of more than 30 Christians. It was a gruesome sequel to their last video, when Egypt’s Coptic Christians, like these men, lay lifeless on the coast — the victims of savage ISIS beheadings. “To the nation of the cross,” the masked killers warn, “we are now back again.”
Unfortunately for the Middle East, they never left. Their march through the sandy strongholds of Syria, Africa, and Iraq, only intensifies — and other nations’ concern along with it. The danger to “worshippers of the cross” — from Kenyan college students to Assyrian Christians — is bringing the genocide into sharper focus for once-reluctant world leaders, who are running out of ways to condemn the acts.
Even the Obama administration, which essentially dropped the word “Christian” from its vocabulary (except to criticize America’s), has reluctantly acknowledged this faith-based targeting. After months of refusing to acknowledge the roots of these attacks, we finally have a White House statement recognizing what the rest of the world already knew: that ISIS is systematically killing Christians.
Late yesterday, the White House joined Ethiopian officials in denouncing the murders. “The United States condemns in the strongest terms the brutal mass murder purportedly of Ethiopian Christians by [ISIS]-affiliated terrorists in Libya… that these terrorists killed these men solely because of their faith lays bare the terrorists’ vicious, senseless hostility.” While we welcome the President’s words, we await his actions. There is no denying the religious-based genocide that ISIS and its affiliates have undertaken.
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Even the United Nations is deep in conversation about how to best to step into the fight. That urgency was obvious at last Friday’s U.N. event, “The Persecution of Christians Globally” where Lt. General Jerry Boykin and I spoke (video here). Historically, America has played a leading role in upholding this fundamental human right. In 1998 the U.S. Congress passed and then President Bill Clinton signed into law the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (“IRFA”) states that “[i]t shall be the policy of the United States … [t]o condemn violations of religious freedom, and to promote, and to assist other governments in the promotion of, the fundamental right to freedom of religion.”
Under this administration, religious liberty hasn’t been pushed to the back seat — it has no seat at the table of U.S. priorities. In the absence of America’s leadership, other countries are trying to step in and fill the void. As I told member nations last week, the international legal framework to protect religious liberty is in place. What remains is for nations to fulfill their moral and legal obligation to enforce these rights, and ensure others do the same. I also pointed out to those who view the world through green eyeshades that not only is religious freedom a fundamental and inherent human right, but good foreign policy. Religious freedom promotes economic growth, and suppressing it stifles economic growth around the world. In turn, the lack of economic growth fosters instability and a lack of security. A growing body in international research shows a positive relationship between religious freedom and economic freedom. One recent study shows the connection between religious freedom and ten of the twelve pillars of global competitiveness measured by the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index.
Research has shown that when religious freedom flourishes, corruption is lowered, there’s more peace, less harmful regulation, reduced liabilities, and more diversity and growth. We must continue to demand that our government use what international influence it has left to stop this global persecution of men, women and children for no other reason than that they are followers of Jesus Christ.
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