Several weeks ago, the U.S. Department of State released its annual review of religious freedom developments around the world. The just-released report, detailing issues that occurred throughout 2014, is notable in that it highlights the heavy persecution that Christians and others face at the hands of non-state actors like ISIS and Boko Haram. Implicit in that is a recognition by the Obama administration that Christians have been at the receiving end of much overseas persecution.
According to the report, the governments of Iraq and Syria have been simply unable to ensure the protection of religious minorities in their nations, as militant groups battle for control of territory over which they administer their own version of “justice” once they have conquered it. For many Christians, this means being forced to pay a “tax,” convert to Islam, or be killed. It also means arbitrary and unjust practices, as this Christian family knows only too well:
“Three-year old Christina Khader Ebada boarded a crowded bus with her mother to leave when suddenly one of the fighters guarding the checkpoint tore Christina from her mother’s arms. The panicked mother followed him, pleading with him to return the girl. “Shut up,” he responded. “If you come close to this little girl you will be slaughtered; we will slaughter you.” And she was forced back on the bus, leaving her baby behind, never to know what became of her.”
After turning a blind eye to the crises facing believers around the world, the State Department should be commended for highlighting the persecution of Christians. After years of equivocation by the Obama administration and other Western governments, such clear-eyed statements are welcome, indeed. The report rightly notes the persecution to other religious groups: Jews are being harassed and targeted in France and Germany, Muslims in Burma, and Buddhists in China.
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There is a litany of other problem spots — we need not forget the carnage that Boko Haram has caused across Nigeria as it targets Christians and Muslims who don’t agree with it. Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Russia, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, China, India, Vietnam, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan are also all mentioned for their own religious freedom problems in the executive summary alone.
The State Department report does an admirable job highlighting the facts on the ground. Now it’s up to decision makers and others who can make a difference on the ground to act on these facts. We hope the administration follows its observations in this report with action. No one — irrespective of their faith — should have to live under anything less than full protection of their inherent, God-given right of religious freedom. Government can never grant this right, and can never take it away.
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