Category archives: Religious Liberty

Elected Leaders Are Moving to Protect Children and Religious Freedom

by Chantel Hoyt

March 22, 2021

In recent weeks, congressional Republicans introduced legislation that would allow faith-based child welfare agencies to operate in line with their convictions and protect their religious freedom. The Senate version of the bill was sponsored by Senators John Kennedy (R-La.) and Tim Scott (R-S.C.) while Representative Mike Kelly (R-Pa.) introduced a companion bill in the House. Speaking about the bill, Scott said, “At a time where religious freedoms are under assault, the Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act [CWPIA] is a necessary protection for those who are living according to their convictions.”

Several states have also recognized the need for such legislation. In recent weeks, Massachusetts, South Carolina, and Kentucky have all introduced legislation that aims to provide the same protections to faith-based child welfare agencies. Specifically, this includes the freedom to place children in homes consistent with their beliefs on biblical family life and sexuality.

While it is the first time this type of legislation has been introduced in these three states, their introduction, as well as the introduction of the federal CWPIA, signals broader concern around the country about the Biden administration’s focus on LGBT issues and how it will impact religious liberty. With President Biden’s support for the Equality Act—a bill that would negatively impact these faith-based agencies (and many other groups)—the future of faith-based child welfare agencies is uncertain. But those committed to preserving religious freedom aren’t likely to go down without a fight.

Legislatures in eight different states have felt the need to pass legislation to protect foster and adoption care agencies, beginning in 2012 (Virginia) and most recently in 2020 (Tennessee). Such legislation allows these agencies to operate in a way consistent with their religious beliefs, without suffering from license revocation, contract termination, or other adverse action from the state. This growing threat has already been seen in Michigan, South Carolina, Illinois, and Massachusetts as well as cities like San Francisco and Philadelphia. In many of these instances, faith-based foster and adoption care agencies have been forced to forego their religious beliefs, serve in a severely limited capacity, and even close their doors because they were not willing to compromise on their principles regarding marriage and sexuality.

Although such discriminatory actions harm the children these agencies serve, opponents of faith-based organizations tend to only focus on LGBT couples who are ‘turned away,’ supposedly limiting the pool of parents willing to help children in need. However, this logic makes two false assumptions.

The first is that faith-based child welfare agencies are LGBT couples’ only option to become parents. This is simply not the case. The majority of agencies in the country are more than willing to work with same-sex couples. Only about 25 percent of agencies are faith-based and have narrow criteria potential parents must meet. For example, in Philadelphia in 2018, only two out of the nearly 30 child welfare agencies were faith-based. The city terminated these agencies’ contracts anyway. The lawsuit filed against the city by foster parents who worked with Catholic Social Services has shown that the agency had not denied service or turned away anyone because of their LGBT status. Further, it showed that should they be unable to partner with a couple that approaches them, they would help that couple connect with one of the other 29 agencies in the city. This is not enough for the activists. Clearly, they were sued because of their religious belief. The picture of a same-sex couple being turned away from a faith-based agency and having nowhere else to turn is simply inaccurate.  

The second false assumption is that more children will receive homes and much needed care if faith-based agencies are forced to make the choice between their beliefs and continuing to help those in need. The reality, though, is that fewer children will receive the care they need because some of the highest performing and longest serving agencies will be shut down or sidelined simply because they’re faith-based. Illinois’ foster and adoption system, for example, seems to still be suffering after the closure of Catholic Charities in 2011. Sadly, Illinois has seen a 14 percent decrease in the number of non-relative foster care beds or homes from 2012 to 2017, and the state lost 1,547 foster homes during that same time period—homes that could have been available to serve foster children in need. It should go without saying that this will harm children in the foster care and adoption systems.

Protecting the ability of faith-based child welfare agencies to continue operating in accordance with their religious beliefs is good for everyone. It helps more children receive care by increasing the number of agencies able to serve them. Allowing religious organizations of any kind to operate alongside non-religious ones is crucial to preserve freedom of religion in our society and to ensure that we are able to serve as many children in need as possible.

We are thankful for the many states and those in Congress who are taking steps to protect this crucial area of religious freedom.

Hong Kong Has Gone Dark

by Arielle Del Turco , Bob Fu

March 19, 2021

A new law enacted in Hong Kong this week is the final death knell in the city’s democracy. China’s national legislature approved electoral changes intended to ensure there are “patriots governing Hong Kong.” Of course, in Communist Party-run China, “patriotism” means rubber-stamping the Party’s wishes.

With dozens of the top pro-democracy political candidates now in prison, Beijing has crushed the hopes of hundreds of thousands of Hong Kongers who took to the streets in a call for greater democracy. As Hong Kong endures political repression under the Chinese Communist Party’s tightening grasp, the freedom-loving world must act to punish Beijing.

The new election law gives Beijing far greater input into choosing the members of the local legislature. Short on details, the measure’s new requirement of “patriotism” will block any dissident from being elected, or even anyone reluctant to affirm the policies of the Party.

As justification for the continued assault on Hong Kong’s autonomy, Beijing loyalists now argue that the “one country, two systems” principle agreed upon prior to the British handover in 1997 refers only to economics, not politics. They are changing the rules in the middle of the game.

Consequently, serious China-watchers are appropriately starting to treat Hong Kong just like China. The Heritage Foundation dropped Hong Kong from its annual Index of Economic Freedom, finding the city not sufficiently autonomous to warrant a distinct listing. It is a move that makes Hong Kong’s leaders furious, but this reclassification is merely an acknowledgement of the reality on the ground. Hong Kong is different following China’s national security law and subsequent crackdown, and the world should act like it.

To make matters worse, the political and religious crackdown on the mainland is increasing, and this will no doubt extend to Hong Kong. New religious regulations going into effect in China on May 1 require religious leaders to “support the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party” and “practice the core values of socialism.” One church that aided pro-democracy demonstrators in 2019 had its bank accounts frozen. The pastor believes it to be retribution for supporting the protests. Such disregard for the rule of law is frequent on the mainland.

Hong Kong is now politically unrecognizable. Yet, the United States can and should take action to hold Beijing accountable for its trampling of Hong Kongers’ human rights.

Hong Kong’s deterioration of religious freedom, along with freedom of association and assembly, should prompt the U.S. to impose targeted sanctions as provided by the International Religious Freedom Act. Other sanctions for international human rights offenders should be considered, including those provided for under the Global Magnitsky Act.

The United States should also continue to apply the sanctions imposed by the Trump administration against the Hong Kong and Chinese officials most responsible for stifling freedom in the territory.

Finally, the Biden administration should cooperate with Congress to completely void the United States-Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992, which allowed Hong Kong a privileged trade status distinct from mainland China. By designating Hong Kong a Chinese province, Beijing will no longer be able to benefit from the economic success Hong Kong incurred as an economically free society.

Beijing’s repression in Hong Kong must have consequences. America’s allies in the region, including democratic Taiwan, are watching and hoping that the free world will lend practical and meaningful support for democracy in the region. The United States must do its best to provide it.

Beijing and authoritarian leaders across the globe will learn something from the way the world reacts to its Hong Kong crackdown. The lesson they must learn is that regimes who crush democracies will not go unpunished.

Bob Fu, founder and president of ChinaAid, is Senior Fellow for International Religious Freedom at Family Research Council.

Arielle Del Turco is the Assistant Director of the Center for Religious Liberty at Family Research Council.

Religious Persecution Fuels Forced Marriage and Human Trafficking

by Arielle Del Turco

March 15, 2021

A new report from Open Doors, “Same Faith, Different Persecution,” details how religious persecution affects men and women differently. Women are particularly vulnerable to different expressions of persecution than men, including sexual violence.

Per the report, in the 50 countries with the highest level of Christian persecution, forced marriages of women have increased by 16 percent. Stunningly, 90 percent of countries featured in the 2021 World Watch List reported incidents of forced marriage, up six percent from the previous year.

Abduction and forced marriage are a particularly widespread problem in Pakistan’s minority communities. In October 2019, three men waited until Huma Younus’ parents left their home before barging in and taking 14-year-old Huma by force. A few days later, the kidnappers sent Huma’s parents copies of a marriage certificate and documents alleging her conversion to Islam. Huma was forced to live as the wife of one of her abductors, and last summer, her parents learned that she had become pregnant from repeated rape.

To Huma’s parents’ dismay, the Sindh High Court ruled in February 2020 that the marriage was legal based on Islamic law, which says men can marry underage girls if they have had their first menstrual cycle. Today, Huma remains subject to unknown abuses in the home of the man who kidnapped her.

In Pakistan, perpetrators choose Christian and Hindu girls as their victims so they can use the country’s religious tensions to cover up their crimes. When a possible instance of forced conversion occurs, the perpetrator will often tell Muslim members of the community that it is inappropriate to question someone’s conversion to Islam. It can be dangerous for a girl to tell authorities or the courts that she did not truly want to convert to Islam; she may face threats against her safety or her family. Mob rule often affects Pakistan’s justice system and weakens the government’s ability to protect the most vulnerable.

In many of the countries Open Doors studied, marriage documentation is often used to cover up human trafficking rings. The report notes, “Traffickers often attempt to cloak the associated sexual violence behind a claim that the girl is now married, which in reality is often a forced marriage or a marriage resulting from targeted seduction.”

It is no secret that in countries with pronounced religious discrimination, girls from religious minority communities are targeted for human trafficking.

State Department officials have repeatedly tried to draw attention to the trafficking of Christians in the countries surrounding China. Kachin Christians from Burma and Christians from Pakistan are favored targets for Chinese traffickers. Traffickers lure impoverished and uneducated girls with the promise of economic comfort, a good job, or the story of a nice Christian boy looking for a wife. In reality, work at a brothel or forced marriage to an abusive and unloving husband is what awaits them.

The fate of women who escape their trafficking or forced marriage situation is also dire. Many cultures attach great shame and stigma to rape. Victims of rape may cease to be seen as an appropriate marriage prospect by their community.

The Open Doors report tells the story of Esther, a young Nigerian girl who was abducted by Boko Haram. After she escaped and made her way home with the child she had in captivity, she was shunned by her community. She said, “They called my baby ‘Boko.’”

The trauma that victims of rape, forced marriage, and human trafficking suffer from is long-lasting. Recovery is an extensive journey that is made even harder without support from the community.

Religious freedom is a human right that affirms other human rights. The various ways in which men and women are victimized by persecution bears witness to that. Research on this topic should cause us to renew our commitment to promoting religious freedom. The painful consequences of religious persecution ought to prompt free societies to take more robust action.

New Report Confirms China’s Genocide. It’s Time to Get American Companies Out of Xinjiang.

by Arielle Del Turco

March 10, 2021

Fifty global experts in international law released a report yesterday analyzing the evidence of genocide in Xinjiang. They determined that China violated every single provision in the 1948 Genocide Declaration.

As the first independent report of its kind not associated with a government, these findings add a lot of credibility to former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s determination that China is committing an ongoing genocide of the Uyghur people.

Current State Department officials have recently been caught trying to avoid the responsibility to act following the genocide declaration by using the past tense to describe China’s genocide. Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) called out these inconsistencies on Twitter, asking why Biden’s nominee for Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and the State Department spokesperson would “refer to genocide in Xinjiang as something in the past? Then uses ‘atrocities’ language which is legally distinct?”

The statements of the Biden administration cause confusion about an issue on which the United States must be clear: Genocide is occurring in Xinjiang, and it must be stopped.

The Genocide Declaration, which the United States has ratified, calls countries to prevent and punish genocide. A new Family Research Council report argues that one of the best ways to punish China for genocide is to target their forced labor program.

Evidence that Beijing is utilizing Uyghur detainees in vast “re-education” camps as a source of forced labor in factories across the Xinjiang region abounds. But do the international companies whose supply chains run through Xinjiang actually care?

The Wire China recently reached out to the 48 largest American businesses with operations in China to ask if they had a position on the repression of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang. The silence was deafening.

Only 1 out of 48 companies expressed concern for the situation. Meanwhile, 88 percent of the companies did not respond or declined to comment. The remaining companies claimed they did not source from Xinjiang.

The silence is particularly alarming given the powerful position these large U.S. companies occupy. Nury Turkel, a Uyghur who serves on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), told The Wire China, “Corporate America is so influential in China. They try to play victim, but the business community might have more leverage trying to get China to do the right thing than the diplomats. Their responsibility is at the front and center of what we are trying to accomplish to stop the genocide.”

Some companies, including Nike, Coca-Cola, and Apple, have gone so far as to lobby to dilute bills in Congress that seek to ban products made in Xinjiang with forced labor.

Yet, in Xinjiang, some of the Trump administration’s efforts to crack down on forced labor may already be making an impact. In a bizarre act of desperation, Chinese companies are suing one U.S.-based researcher whose work has help exposed Beijing’s forced labor program. To the target, Adrian Zenz, the lawsuit indicates China is already feeling the economic hit from policies designed to target forced labor.

Uyghur activists are also calling into question whether it is appropriate for corporate sponsors to fund the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. As the Chinese government continues to deny its gross human rights abuses, it appears that the Olympics will take place in the shadow of a genocide.

Companies sponsoring the Olympics should think twice about those optics. These days, just about any unpopular opinion can get someone “canceled.” Yet, somehow, an ongoing genocide will not result in being canceled. 

These priorities are out of line, and people know it. Americans want to see their government address human rights in China. A recent Pew Research survey found that 70 percent of Americans think the U.S. should promote human rights in China, even if it harms economic relations. That is a huge number, and the Biden administration should take note.

As Beijing grows bolder in committing atrocities, it requires a response from the leader of the free world. The Biden administration should be prepared to offer that response by taking meaningful action to combat forced labor and punish Beijing for their genocide.

Biden’s Cabinet (Part 4): Marcia Fudge Would Roll Back Religious Liberty Protections at HUD

by Joseph Norris , Mia Steupert

March 10, 2021

This is Part 4 of a blog series examining the records of President Biden’s Cabinet picks on abortion and family issues. Read previous posts on Antony BlinkenXavier Becerra, and Jennifer Granholm.

The ongoing debate over how legal protections for sexual orientation and gender ideology impact individuals, businesses, religious institutions, and the public square will take center stage under President Biden’s administration. This is something President Biden’s nominee to run the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Marcia Fudge will have to grapple with if she is confirmed. The six-term Democratic Congresswoman from Ohio will be in charge of leading a department that is tasked with ensuring housing for low-income individuals through a litany of government-funded programs. It is likely that she will strengthen Obama-era regulations that prioritized LGBTQ-identified individuals over others, including women, girls, individuals of faith, and faith-based organizations.

A study released by Baylor University found that most homeless shelters in the United States are run by Christian organizations. These organizations could bear the brunt of the liberal sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) policies that are passed by HUD. If Fudge is confirmed, she will have the opportunity to renew and further the Obama-era policies that used departmental rules to elevate protections of LGBTQ-identified individuals over others. Already, she voted in favor of codifying these special protections back in 2014, which would have enforced the LBTGQ ideology on private contractors with traditional religious beliefs. President Obama used HUD to advance LGBTQ ideology, when back in 2009, his administration commissioned a study to investigate discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. This led to a 2012 rule which forced participants in HUD-assisted and HUD-insured housing programs to forfeit their religious beliefs if they wanted to continue their participation. Following this, a 2016 rule regarding HUD’s Community Planning and Development Programs was finalized which forced those participating in these programs (like sex-segregated homeless shelters) to allow biological men into private spaces intended for biological women and to forfeit their religious beliefs if they wanted to continue participation.

In 2020, the Trump administration proposed a rule to begin to roll back these regulations with then-Secretary Ben Carson remarking that this was an attempt to “better accommodate religious beliefs of shelter providers.” This rule would have given those operating as single-sex or sex-segregated facilities some flexibility in developing their own “admissions determination” policies. While the rule would not have given complete freedom, since organizations were still bound by local policy, it gave facilities more freedom to exercise their religious beliefs. Additionally, in compliance with a 2018 executive order titled “White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative,” nine federal agencies, including HUD, finalized a rule that these agencies must give faith-based organizations the same opportunities to participate in their programs as their secular counterparts. With Fudge’s past voting record as a congresswomen, her past statements and her backing by the Human Rights Campaign for her pro-LGBTQ voting record, it is safe to assume that Fudge will scale back the advances for religious liberty made at HUD by the Trump administration.

There has been no clear statement whether Congresswoman Fudge would continue these policies, but her voting record is a strong indication. During her 12 years in Congress, she developed a strong pro-LGBTQ voting record. In 2011, she sponsored a bill that would add SOGI protections to school activities and facilities. Similarly, she voted in favor of the Respect for Marriage Act, which would have amended the Defense of Marriage Act to codify same-sex marriage. Outside of Congress she has publicly supported SOGI ideology and called for more action on the issue. Given her past record and her statements, it is likely that Marcia Fudge will not only push for a return to the regulations from the Obama administration but will also take these rules that threaten the religious liberty of Americans to new heights.

President Biden has already shown during his first few weeks in office that he has no problem advancing his liberal agenda through unilateral action. Fudge could issue memoranda or guidance and oversee rules that limit religious liberty and force organizations across the country to decide between their faith and access to greater resources to help the needy in their community, including battered women and the homeless. We should all pray that, if confirmed, Fudge’s actions do not come to fruition, for if they did, they would limit the avenues of help for those in need. If she is confirmed, we pray for a conversion of her heart and that she will use her platform to uphold the religious liberty rights of all people.

Joseph Norris is a Policy and Government Affairs intern focusing on pro-life issues.

Mia Steupert is a Policy and Government Affairs intern focusing on family and religious liberty.

IRF 101: Pakistan Is Captive to Islamist Mob Rule

by Arielle Del Turco

March 9, 2021

This blog is Part 2 of an International Religious Freedom 101 series providing an overview of religious freedom challenges in countries around the world. Read our first installment on Turkey.

Last month, a Pakistani court indefinitely delayed the appeal hearing of a Christian husband and wife accused of blasphemy, dashing the couple’s hopes for justice. Shagufta Kausar and Shafqat Emmanuel have been imprisoned since 2013 and on death row since 2014, on charges they say cannot possibly be true.

In June of 2013, a Muslim cleric claimed he had received a “blasphemous” text message from a SIM card registered in Shagufta’s name. The cleric and his lawyer then both claimed to receive more inciteful texts from the same SIM card. The texts were allegedly written in English. However, Shagufta and Shafqat, like many religious minorities in Pakistan, are poorly educated and illiterate, incapable of composing “blasphemous” texts in English. Yet, authorities arrested the couple and charged them both with “insulting the Qur’an” (under Section 295-B) and “insulting the Prophet” (Section 295-C). These crimes are punishable by life imprisonment and death, respectively.

Today, Shagufta and Shafqat are detained in separate prisons in different districts of the Punjab province. They are forced to stay in isolation because the authorities fear other prisoners may kill them. Shagufta’s brother, Joseph, says, “My brother-in-law is almost physically dead, as he is paralyzed and can’t move his lower body, and my sister is mentally dead as she has been living alone for over six years and also feels people may kill her, even in prison. She is very disturbed and her hair is falling out.” Meanwhile, their four children are growing up without their parents.

Stories like Shagufta and Shafqat’s are not altogether uncommon in Pakistan, where violent radicals pressure the courts to rule against religious minorities in order to defend Islam.

Blasphemy Laws and Mob Violence

Blasphemy laws prohibit insults to Islam and are utilized to target both Muslims and non-Muslims. People will often accuse others of blasphemy to settle unrelated disputes. Shagufta and Shafqat suspect their accuser was retaliating for a fight between their children.

When blasphemy cases are heard in court, radicals often see the perceived instance of blasphemy as an attack on the Muslim faith and put immense pressure on the courts to condemn the accused. Sometimes violent mobs pose a real threat to judges, especially those at the regional level who lack security details. Last year, one Ahmadiyya Muslim man accused of blasphemy was shot and killed in the courtroom.

Pakistan carries the dubious distinction of having the highest number of incidences of mob activity, violence, and threats related to blasphemy accusations in the world. Pakistan is officially an Islamic state, and an overwhelming majority of the population adheres to Islam. Religious tensions with the tiny Christian, Hindu, Sikh, and Ahmadiyya Muslim minority groups run high.

Social Discrimination

Many Christians and other minorities have limited options for work. They have high illiteracy and poverty rates and are often relegated to menial jobs as farmhands, sanitation workers, or street sweepers.These jobs carry harsh stigmas, reinforcing cultural discrimination against them.

The marginalization of these religious minority communities makes it difficult for them to advocate for themselves.

Forced Conversion

A tragic consequence of religious discrimination and violence is that it enables a trend of forced conversion. Huma Younus, a 14-year-old Christian girl, was kidnapped from her home by three men in October 2019. A few days later, the kidnappers sent Huma’s parents copies of a marriage certificate and documents alleging her conversion to Islam. Although her parents appealed to the courts for help, they ultimately sent her back to her abductor’s home, where she remains trapped within one room.

The failure of the Pakistani police and judicial system to secure justice for girls like Huma is shameful. The contentious nature of cases involving religion sometimes makes it dangerous for authorities to do the right thing. In the case of a young Hindu girl who had been kidnapped and forcibly converted, over 1,500 people gathered outside the court and pressured the judge to give in to the demands of the Muslim man accused of forced conversion.

Protecting Pakistan’s Religious Minorites Is Worth the Effort

The youngest democracy on earth, Pakistan is a complex country with many human rights challenges and a turbulent recent history. Pakistan’s weak rule of law has disastrous consequences for religious minorities most in need of legal protection.

Improving Pakistan’s religious freedom conditions will be a long and slow journey. U.S. and international leaders should continue to press Pakistani leaders to repeal its blasphemy laws and provide more protection for religious minority communities. For the sake of those who simply want to practice their faith in peace, it is worth the effort.

8 Powerful Books That Demonstrate the Importance of Religious Freedom

by Arielle Del Turco

March 5, 2021

Challenges to religious freedom continue to persist and intensify around the world, and it can be difficult to wrap our minds around these many diverse threats. It is important that we make an effort, however, because Scripture prompts us to remember our Christian brothers and sisters who are imprisoned and mistreated (Heb. 13:3).

If we are going to remember the persecuted, we must first learn their stories and empathize with their plight. A great way to start is by reading about the experiences of those who have lived in persecuted contexts.

Here are eight books that demonstrate the critical importance of religious freedom and can help us empathize with the persecuted:

God’s Hostage by Andrew Brunson

American pastor Andrew Brunson had ministered at a small Turkish church for years. Then, he unjustly got swept up in the government’s crackdown on a 2016 coup attempt. In his book, he opens up about the hardships he endured in prison and what God taught him through it all.  

Captive in Iran by Maryam Rostampour and Marziyeh Amirizadeh

Maryam Rostampour and Marziyeh Amirizadeh converted to Christianity in Iran, where it is illegal to do so. But they chose to share their newfound faith rather than stay in hiding. As a result, they discovered what one of the region’s most notorious prisons is like.

Under the Same Sky by Joseph Kim

Joseph Kim grew up in North Korea, the world’s most repressed country. It wasn’t until he managed to escape to China that he learned about Christianity.

The Last Girl by Nadia Murad

Nadia Murad lived a simple, rural life in Iraq until ISIS invaded her region and committed a genocide against her people. As a young Yazidi woman, she was taken by ISIS militants and sold into slavery before finally managing to escape.

Goodbye, Antoura by Karnig Panian

Karnig Panian was just a boy when Ottoman forces began their genocide against Armenians. Sent to an orphanage that taught him to abandon his Christian traditions and embrace a Turkish identity, he and other orphans endured immense challenges as the genocide occurred.

God’s Double Agent by Bob Fu

Born in Communist China, Bob Fu converted to Christianity and soon became a house church leader, evading the restrictive government. After being caught and sent to prison, he and his wife fled, where he began a new life as a human rights advocate in the United States.

Saving My Assassin by Virginia Prodan

In Ceausescu’s Romania, Virginia Prodan became a lawyer, always searching for the truth. When she finally found it in Christianity, she began defending Romanian Christians and churches in court.

God’s Smuggler by Brother Andrew

This Dutch missionary known as “Brother Andrew” smuggled Bibles into the Soviet Union. As he risked his safety to visit churches under communist regimes, he discovered what it meant to support the persecuted church. He eventually founded Open Doors.

***

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but reading these stories will broaden your worldview and expose you to some of the challenges experienced by believers simply trying to live out their faith. A few of these book recommendations are set in the past. Even though the specific circumstances described may have changed, the past has much to teach us about present threats to religious freedom and those that might surface in the future.

For more background information on current religious freedom challenges around the world, keep an eye out for FRC’s “International Religious Freedom 101” blog series. You can read the first installment about Turkey here.

H.R. 1: A Religious Test for Redistricting?

by Travis Weber, J.D., LL.M.

March 3, 2021

Tucked away in H.R. 1, a bill intended to enact sweeping election reforms, is a problematic religious test for public service—this time on redistricting commissions set up by the bill.

H.R. 1 requires states to establish a nonpartisan agency in the state legislature. This nonpartisan agency will establish an independent redistricting commission to organize electoral districts.

Section 2412 establishes eligibility criteria to serve on the redistricting commission. Any individual applying to serve on the redistricting commission must provide personal information, including:

The reason or reasons the individual desires to serve on the independent redistricting commission, the individual’s qualifications, and information relevant to the ability of the individual to be fair and impartial, including, but not limited to—

(I) any involvement with, or financial support of, professional, social, political, religious, or  community organizations or causes [emphasis added].

While it may appear minor, this is incredibly problematic because it suggests that religious affiliations may affect an individual’s ability to be impartial, and thereby may make them ineligible to serve on the commission. This is not only discriminatory, but also unconstitutional.

Article 6, Clause 3, of the U.S. Constitution states that “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” This is a tradition that has protected religious believers from discrimination for centuries. It is critical that we preserve the integrity of this constitutional clause and refuse to allow religious tests to become enshrined in law through H.R. 1.

As cancel culture rages, it is easy to see how this provision will be utilized to target conservative Christians, whose biblical values are increasingly at odds with the culture’s embrace of certain favored ideologies. When Judge Amy Coney Barrett was chosen to be a Supreme Court Justice, the Left relentlessly called her eligibility for the office into question based on her informal affiliation with a Catholic prayer group.

Provisions like this one only legitimize that shameful argument. The subtle religious test in H.R. 1 is just another reason Congress should reject this bill.

Holy Boldness: The Uncommon Courage of Dietrich Bonhoeffer

by Worth Loving

March 2, 2021

Even though George Orwell’s 1984 is a work of fiction, the last two years might lead one to believe that it is a true story—just with the wrong title. In his book, Orwell writes of a government that dictates its own version of the truth and silences anyone who dares to challenge their approved groupthink.

Mere days after the major networks called the 2020 presidential race for Joe Biden, many who questioned the integrity of the election were quickly banned from major social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. What started with former President Trump being banned turned into much more. Even groups like Focus on the Family have been banned by Twitter for proclaiming biblical truth about gender and sexuality, not to mention the many Christians and Catholics who have been persecuted in America over the past decade for running their businesses and ministries according to their deeply held religious convictions. For example, take Jack Phillips, Barronelle Stutzman, the Little Sisters of the Poor, or dozens of others. None of these people wanted the battle they were given, but they were not willing to sacrifice truth and justice on the altar of political correctness.

In the midst of a raging “cancel culture,” it might be tempting for many Bible-believing Christians to keep their faith to themselves and not speak up against governmental policies that are antithetical to biblical teaching. But, throughout history, God has called His people to stand up against the rising tide of antibiblical teaching and policies, no matter the consequences. One of the greatest modern examples of this kind of courage and heroism is the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

I recently finished Eric Metaxas’ brilliant biography Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. If you’ve never read any of Eric Metaxas’ works, I cannot recommend him enough. His biographies read like novels, and it’s hard to put them down. Ironically, I finished this incredible biography on what would have been Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s 115th birthday, February 4, 1906.

Born into an affluent German family, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a prominent and well-respected theologian of his time. He graduated from the University of Berlin in 1927 and went on to receive a doctorate in theology for his influential thesis, Sanctorum Communio (Communion of Saints). After graduating, Bonhoeffer spent time in Spain and America, broadening his horizons and allowing him multiple opportunities to observe worship practices of other denominations. He spent a year in Barcelona, serving as a pastor to a German congregation. He then traveled to New York to complete a fellowship at Union Theological Seminary. During this time, he met an African-American student named Frank Fisher who invited Bonhoeffer to attend church services in Harlem. Bonhoeffer was greatly affected by this and spent much time interacting with the congregation and listening to Negro spirituals. In particular, Bonhoeffer was greatly displeased with the racism against African-Americans in the United States at that time, which further influenced his hatred of Hitler’s atrocities against the Jews in Germany.

The early 1930s were especially tumultuous for Germany. After World War I, the League of Nations had imposed crushing economic penalties on the country, leading to mass unemployment. Coupled with the instability of the Weimar Republic and the lack of leadership from Kaiser Wilhelm II, Germany was ripe for a charismatic leader to take over. Bonhoeffer returned to Berlin in 1931 and was ordained as a pastor in the German Evangelical Church at age 25. Ironically, Bonhoeffer came to prominence at the very time another leader was rising to power—the infamous Adolf Hitler. At noon, on January 30, 1933, Hitler was elected chancellor of Germany.

Hitler’s election was widely praised by the German population, who were desperate for hope of an economic turnaround. Even a majority of the German Evangelical Church supported Hitler. But Dietrich Bonhoeffer was not one of them. In fact, two days after Hitler was elected chancellor, Bonhoeffer delivered a radio address criticizing “The Fuhrer” concept. In his address, Bonhoeffer said the following before his broadcast was cut off mid-air, a tell-tale sign of Hitler’s intent to silence any opposition to the Third Reich:

The fearful danger of the present time is that above the cry for authority…we forget that man stands alone before the ultimate authority and that anyone who lays violent hands on man here is infringing eternal laws and taking upon himself superhuman authority which will eventually crush him…The church has only one altar, the altar of the Almighty…before which all creatures must kneel. Whoever seeks something other than this must keep away; he cannot join us in the house of God…The church has only one pulpit, and from that pulpit, faith in God will be preached, and no other faith, and no other will than the will of God, however well-intentioned.

Mere days after Hitler became chancellor, he began planning his takeover of Germany. His first step was to take over the government. The Nazi Party held a fraction of the seats in the Reichstag, but Hitler knew his opponents were divided and unable to unite against him. A few days after assuming the chancellorship, Hitler and the Nazis staged a burning of the Reichstag building and blamed it on the Communists. It was a perfect plan. Now, the German people, who were already in a desperate situation, would give up just about anything to preserve their nation. The next day, Hitler convinced President Hindenburg to sign the Reichstag Fire Edict. It decreed: “Restrictions on personal liberty, on the right of free expression of opinion, including freedom of the press; on the rights of assembly and association; and violations of the privacy of postal, telegraphic and telephonic communications; and warrants for house searches, orders for confiscations as well as restrictions on property, are also permissible beyond the legal limits otherwise prescribed.” Within days, Nazi storm troopers were storming the streets, beating and arresting their political opponents. A month later, Hitler convinced the Reichstag to pass the Enabling Act, effectively abolishing its lawmaking power. In less than two months, Hitler had become a dictator.

In April, Hitler’s merciless persecution of the Jews had begun with the boycotting of Jewish businesses. Bonhoeffer spoke up against these atrocities and urged leaders of the German Evangelical Church to reject the infiltration of Nazi philosophies. But his cries fell on deaf ears as most Germain Evangelical Churches capitulated to every single one of Hitler’s demands, including barring “non-Aryans” from becoming ministers and replacing the Bible with Mein Kampf, Hitler’s autobiographical manifesto. As a result, Bonhoeffer joined forces with another prominent Berlin pastor, Martin Neimoller, to form the Confessing Church. The Confessing Church held true to the doctrine that Jesus Christ was supreme over the Church, not Der Fuhrer.

Later that year, Bonhoeffer took a bit of a sabbatical and accepted a two-year appointment to serve as the pastor of a German-speaking Protestant church in London. But he soon felt the call to return to his native Germany and returned to Berlin in 1935. By this time, Hitler’s persecution of the Confessing Church had begun. One leader had already been arrested, and another had fled to Switzerland. The next year, Bonhoeffer had his teaching credentials revoked upon being accused of being a pacifist and an enemy of the state.

In 1937, Nazi occupation of Germany intensified. The SS shut down the seminary of the Confessing Church. As a result, Bonhoeffer began to travel throughout the country, leading private seminaries for his students. It was during this time that he wrote one of his most famous works, “The Cost of Discipleship.” In it, Bonhoeffer gives the following challenge:

It is high time we broke with our theologically based restraint towards the state’s actions—which, after all, is only fear. ‘Speak out for those who cannot speak.’ Who in the church today realizes that this is the very least that the Bible requires of us? The restoration of the church must surely depend on a new kind of monasticism, which has nothing in common with the old but a life of uncompromising discipleship, following Christ according to the Sermon on the Mount. I believe the time has come to gather people together to do this.

In June 1939, fearing he would be required to swear an oath to Hitler, Bonhoeffer fled to the United States. But, once again, he soon felt a call to return to his beleaguered country. After less than two years in the U.S., he returned to Germany.

Upon returning to Germany, Bonhoeffer’s rights to speak and publish were revoked. He soon joined forces with the Abwehr, the German military intelligence agency. Within this agency, he found many military officers who were opposed to Hitler’s regime and learned of numerous assassination plots. During the next few years, Bonhoeffer actively worked undercover for the German resistance movement and helped smuggle Jews to neutral Switzerland.

In April 1943, the Gestapo learned of Bonhoeffer’s involvement with the resistance and arrested him. He was confined to Tegel Military Prison for the next year and a half but was treated well compared to many other prisoners who were in concentration camps. Sympathetic guards helped to smuggle his writings out, including his magnum opus, Ethics. A few months before his arrest, we catch a glimpse of Bonhoeffer’s courage in his essay entitled “After Ten Years: A Reckoning Made at New Year 1943.” In it, he boldly declared the following:

Who stands fast? Only the man whose final standard is not his reason, his principles, his conscience, his freedom, or his virtue, but who is ready to sacrifice all this when he is called to obedient and responsible action in faith and in exclusive allegiance to God—the responsible man, who tries to make his whole life an answer to the question and call of God.

On July 20, 1944, the most famous attempt to assassinate Hitler—“Valkyrie”—failed when the Fuhrer escaped with only minor injuries. Coupled with the Allied victory at Normandy a month earlier, Hitler felt his grasp on power slipping and subsequently mounted a ruthless campaign to rid Germany of anyone working to undermine the Reich. As a result, Bonhoeffer’s involvement in other attempts to assassinate Hitler were uncovered. He was later transferred from Tegel prison to the Buchenwald concentration camp. Bonhoeffer spent the next eight months at Buchenwald. But rather than being overcome with despair at his misfortune, he continued to minister to his fellow prisoners through prayer and Bible studies.

On Easter Sunday, April 7, 1945, Bonhoeffer was transferred to Flossenburg and given a court martial. The next morning, he was hung by his Nazi captors, likely ordered directly by the Fuhrer himself. Just before his execution, Bonhoeffer told his cellmate, “This is the end—for me the beginning of life.” The camp doctor who witnessed Bonhoeffer’s execution later wrote, “I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer … kneeling on the floor praying fervently to God. I was most deeply moved by the way this lovable man prayed, so devout and so certain that God heard his prayer. At the place of execution, he again said a short prayer and then climbed the few steps to the gallows, brave and composed. His death ensued after a few seconds. In the almost fifty years that I worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God.”

A month later, the Allies liberated Germany and its concentration camps. Hitler committed suicide with his wife Eva Braun in their underground bunker. It was Victory in Europe Day. Four months later, World War II was over.

Bonhoeffer did not fear death. In a sermon delivered in London in November 1933, he said: “No one has yet believed in God and the kingdom of God, no one has yet heard about the realm of the resurrected, and not been homesick from that hour, waiting and looking forward joyfully to being released from bodily existence…Death is hell and night and cold, if it is not transformed by our faith. But that is just what is so marvelous, that we can transform death.”

II Timothy 3:12 (KJV) tells us that “all who live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” As I have studied this passage recently, two distinct points have captured my attention. First, Paul writes of those who “will live godly.” I do not believe Paul is speaking here of a private faith, one that allows for a comfortable Christian life. No, Paul is referring to Christians who will take a stand for Christ, risking relationships, jobs, incarceration, or even death. Second, Paul writes of persecution at the end of the verse, not as a possibility but as a certainty for all who choose to take a public stand for Christ. It is not a question of “if” but “when.”

Like Paul, Dietrich Bonhoeffer realized the weight of this verse and accepted it. Bonhoeffer knew the consequences that he, his family, his friends, and his colleagues might face if he chose to speak up against the Nazis. But his desire to speak truth against injustice was greater than his fear of the repercussions. In the end, he faced death as boldly as he had spoken out against the Nazis for the past 12 years. And while Bonhoeffer did pay the ultimate price for standing up for justice, his sacrifice and example live on. A month after his death, Germany and the Jewish people were liberated from Nazi oppression. Many today are still learning about his life, reading his works, and gaining inspiration.

The day may be coming in the United States when Christians who dare to speak up will be persecuted for their faith. In fact, a number of Christian-owned businesses and ministries are already being targeted and harassed. And while I pray we never have to give our lives, we may face broken relationships, lost jobs, and even prison time. God has given each of us a choice. We can either cower to the demands of a tyrannical government or we can risk everything for the cause of the truth.

May we all remember the remarkable life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer in the days, weeks, and years to come as we each are faced with similar decisions. And may we all be reminded that no matter what persecution we face, it is only temporary compared to an eternity in Heaven: “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 NKJV).

More Nigerian Schoolgirls Kidnapped while a Christian Pastor Pleads for His Life

by Lela Gilbert

March 1, 2021

In the early morning hours of Friday, February 26, CNN reported that hundreds of female students had been kidnapped overnight from their boarding school in Nigeria. “They came on about 20 motorcycles and they marched the abducted girls into the forest,” a source told CNN. “The bandits arrived around 1:45 a.m. and they operated ‘til about 3 a.m.”

This outrageous assault took place less than a week following the 3-year anniversary of the abduction of well-known Nigerian kidnapping victim, Leah Sharibu. In a similar invasion, on February 19, 2018, Leah’s school had been attacked, and she and her classmates were abducted by Boko Haram terrorists.

So now several hundred more schoolgirls have been taken captive. “Security forces and a local defense group have commenced a search…” reports HumAngle. The girls were “abducted by a terror group in the early hours of Friday from their school in Jengebe, Zamfara State, Northwest Nigeria. The schoolgirls were abducted when the terror group stormed the Government Girls Secondary School…and subsequently moved the students.”  

Freedom At What Price?

Since those initial reports, conflicting accounts from Nigerian news sources claim that the Zamfara girls have, in fact, been freed. Some even say there is video of their release.

But if, in fact, the girls are free, the Nigerian government has remained evasively silent about the terms of the release or the identity of the kidnappers. Jihadi activity was not initially indicated as an element in the schoolgirls’ abduction. Yet according to some observers, these widespread kidnappings represent cooperation between Boko Haram and Fulani radicals who may, in turn, have influence over the Nigerian government.

In fact, the Sultan of Sokoto has publicly linked Boko Haram to the widespread school kidnappings. “Make no mistake,” he recently said,  “the abduction is a classic example of the philosophical foundation of Boko Haram—that western education is forbidden. That’s why their targets are always on boarding schools, especially science schools, considered atheistic in pedagogy.”            

Boko Haram’s kidnapping of Leah Sharibu and her classmates horrifically demonstrated Boko Haram’s radical Islamist agenda. Her classmates, who were released, were Muslim girls. She, alone, refused to deny her Christian faith and has remained enslaved for three years. Leah has reportedly given birth to the child of one of her captors.

Anti-Christian attacks on Nigeria’s schools, villages, churches, and clergy are distressingly commonplace. According to a recently updated Family Research Council report, since 2015, over 12,000 Christians have been killed in Nigeria. Countless more believers have been gravely injured, displaced, kidnapped or have simply disappeared. Priests and pastors are often targeted for abduction, and over the years more than a few have been murdered—some by beheading. 

As for the Zamfara school, it not yet known how many Christian girls were among those taken captive. But on Sunday, Pope Francis joined the Bishops of Nigeria in appealing for the release of the recently abducted students.

Death Threats to a Christian Pastor 

Meanwhile, in a related and tragic story of religiously-based kidnapping, on February 25, Christian Pastor Bulus Yakuru, who was seized during a Christmas Eve attack, stated he will be executed within a week if President Muhammadu Buhari does not meet Boko Haram’s demands for his release. In a new video, Pastor Yakuru identified himself and pleaded with Nigeria’s president, the Borno State governor, and the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), the umbrella body of Christians in the country, to intervene and secure his release. 

During the attack in which Pastor Yakuru was taken, “At least seven people were killed when Boko Haram insurgents attacked the village of Pemi in Borno State on Dec. 24, 2020.” Pemi is located approximately 20 kilometers from Chibok, where Boko Haram abducted hundreds of schoolgirls.

It is true that escalating violence in Nigeria is widespread and banditry is rampant across the country. However, in the case of anti-Christian attacks—like those in which Leah Sharibu and Pastor Bulus Yakuru were seized and held captive—there is far more than banditry involved.

USCIRF has explained, “In December 2020, the U.S. Department of State designated Nigeria as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) for the first time ever due to systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom. Violent attacks by Boko Haram and ethno-religious conflicts have become more frequent, and are exacerbated by the judiciary system.”  Meanwhile, Open Doors’ 2021 World Watch List has placed Nigeria as the world’s 9th worst persecutor of Christians.

With all this in mind, let’s especially remember Leah Sharibu and Pastor Bulus Yakuru in our prayers. And may God protect the tormented people of Nigeria from violent attacks that grow more deadly with every passing day.

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