Category archives: Religious Liberty

A “Blasphemous” Text Put a Pakistani Couple on Death Row. They’re Illiterate.

by Arielle Del Turco

May 21, 2020

Today, a married couple in Pakistan is languishing apart in separate prisons, unable to see each other or their four children. Shafqat Emmanuel remains paralyzed from the waist down following an accident in 2004. His wife, Shagufta Kausar provided for her family by working as a cleaner. Shafqat and Shagufta lived simple lives on a church compound before their world came crashing down and a years-long nightmare ensued due to Pakistan’s draconian blasphemy laws.  

The saga began in June 2013, when a Muslim cleric claimed he received a blasphemous text message from Shagufta’s phone. The cleric said he showed the text to his lawyer, and both subsequently claimed that they received more inflammatory texts from the phone registered to Shagufta. The alleged texts were written in English.

There are a few problems with this dubious story. Shagufta and Shafqat come from a poor background and are illiterate. They could not have crafted such a text in their native Urdu, and certainly not in English. The couple suspects the cleric’s accusation is retaliation for an argument between their children and their neighbors.

Nonetheless, 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. In April 2014, Shafqat and Shagufta were sentenced to death, and they are still appealing the court’s decision.

Blasphemy laws are an affront to human rights, and Pakistan has proven to be one of the foremost abusers of these laws.

A new report from the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan found that, as of December 2019, at least 17 people were on death row after being convicted on blasphemy charges.

Blasphemy laws prohibit insults to religion. Allegations of blasphemy made against religious minorities living in the Muslim world are often utilized to settle unrelated disputes. Religious minorities like Christians are particularly vulnerable to these accusations because of their marginalized place in society.

Unfortunately, blasphemy laws remain in many parts of the world. In its 2020 annual report, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom found that at least 84 countries have blasphemy laws, and even more have broad laws that are used to target speech deemed blasphemous.

The continued existence of blasphemy laws in so many countries makes this a global issue. Twenty-seven countries signed a statement of concern at last year’s Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, held by the U.S. State Department, calling upon the governments that utilize blasphemy and apostasy laws to repeal them. The international community should continue to push for the end of blasphemy laws everywhere. It should be high on the agenda for the new International Religious Freedom Alliance spearheaded by the State Department.

Blasphemy laws restrict freedom of speech and freedom of religion—both fundamental human rights. No one should be put on death row for their faith.

To learn more about blasphemy laws around the world, check out FRC’s publication on Apostasy, Blasphemy, and Anti-Conversion Laws.

Churches Are Filing Lawsuits Over Coronavirus Restrictions. Here Is a List.

by Katherine Beck Johnson , Kaitlyn Shepherd

May 20, 2020

**UPDATED as of 8/06

As the coronavirus pandemic has taken hold, religious services have been disrupted across the United States in perhaps the most drastic manner in recent memory. Many state and local governments have clamped down on gatherings, and almost everyone in the United States has had some kind of restriction placed on them. Yet not all government authorities have respected religious freedom during this process.

Various state authorities, particularly governors in California, Nevada, Washington, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Maine, have failed to prioritize religious liberty even as they prioritized other secular interests. Rather than looking at churches as partners to help care for our communities at this time, the governors in these states have treated churches as antagonists. As have certain other governmental authorities, they have failed to cooperate with churches, often hindering them from assisting their communities during this time.

The Department of Justice, which has been keenly focused on protecting religious liberty, released a memo expressing its concern that this fundamental right not be violated during the pandemic. The memo notes that reasonable restrictions may be permissible during this time. However, a state may not cross the line from “an appropriate exercise of authority to stop the spread of COVID-19 into an overbearing infringement of constitutional and statutory protections.” Many churches have challenged discriminatory state and local orders by bringing suit in court. These court cases are listed below.

Churches that Won

1. Tabernacle Baptist Church v. Beshear

To curb the spread of the coronavirus, Kentucky governor Andrew Beshear ordered nonessential businesses to close. The state put a limit on “mass gatherings,” including those considered “faith-based.” Tabernacle Baptist Church planned to hold services in accordance with social distancing guidelines. Nevertheless, they were not allowed. The judge held that Tabernacle’s free exercise rights were violated, and granted a temporary restraining order.

2. On Fire Christian Center v. Fischer

On Fire Christian Center in Louisville, Kentucky was granted a temporary restraining order, allowing it to hold drive-in services for Easter Sunday. Judge Walker found that the Louisville mayor’s prohibition was not neutral because it allowed businesses, such as liquor stores, to remain open for drive-through purposes but not churches.

*Update: The temporary restraining order was dissolved and the case was dismissed after the parties agreed that the church would take reasonable steps to comply with the CDC’s social distancing guidelines.

3. Maryville Baptist Church v. Beshear (church initially lost)

The district court denied the Hillview, Kentucky church’s emergency motion for a temporary restraining order. The district judge found that the order applied to “all gatherings” and not just faith-based gatherings. The judge found the exceptions to be singular transitory experiences, whereas church services are communal activities. However, the opinion was appealed to the Sixth Circuit.

On appeal, the Sixth Circuit held that the governor’s order likely prohibits the Free Exercise Clause and the Fourteenth Amendment, especially with respect to drive-in services. The governor had allowed law firms, laundromats, liquor stores, and gun shops to continue operating. The plaintiff’s motion for an injunction pending appeal was granted in part.

*Update: On May 8, 2020, the district court granted the injunction with respect to the in-person services, finding that the church was likely to succeed on its Kentucky Religious Freedom Restoration Act claim and its constitutional claims. On May 9, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, in another case involving Maryville Baptist Church, found that the governor’s restrictions on in-person worship likely violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Read more about the case here.

4. First Pentecostal Church of Holly Springs v. City of Holly Springs

In Mississippi, First Pentecostal Church of Holly Springs filed suit seeking a temporary restraining order permitting a planned Sunday service. At the hearing, the judge believed the city had made concessions that would resolve the dispute in question, but the court still put forth an order to clarify things. The judge noted that drive-in services should be permitted. Yet, the judge was less sympathetic to a request for a 35-person indoor gathering.

*Update: The church was burned down on May 20, 2020 in an act of suspected arson. Two days later, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals granted the church’s motion for a temporary injunction, allowing it to hold in-person services. Judge Willett issued a powerful concurrence on behalf of the church, condemning the City’s lack of sympathy and outrage over the destruction of a “neighborhood house of worship” and declaring the City’s argument that the arson rendered the First Amendment claim moot to be “shameful.”

5. Berean Baptist Church v. Cooper

A federal judge in North Carolina granted a temporary restraining order, which allowed churchgoers to attend church in person. The North Carolina governor banned indoor church services of over 10 people, though outdoor services were still allowed. The judge noted that some religious services cannot be conducted outdoors or with fewer than 10 people. He also noted that the governor allowed over 10 people indoors for secular activities. Finally, the judge said, “The Governor has failed to cite any peer-reviewed study showing that religious interactions in those 15 states have accelerated the spread of COVID-19 in any manner distinguishable from non-religious interactions.”

*Update: The case was voluntarily dismissed in response to changes in the Governor’s orders.

6. Edgewater Christian Church v. Brown

Two churches in Oregon sued Governor Brown. The church argues that if people are able to gather at restaurants, they should be able to gather at church.

*Update: Case voluntarily dismissed on June 10, 2020 after Phase 2 of Oregon’s reopening plans allows church to resume services.

Churches that Lost

1. Lighthouse Fellowship Church v. Northam (DOJ intervened)

In Virginia, Lighthouse Fellowship Church on Chincoteague Island filed suit after the pastor was issued a citation for holding a Palm Sunday service for 16 people. The church sought a preliminary injunction against Governor Northam’s order, but a U.S. District Court judge denied that request. The next day, attorneys for the church filed a notice that it would appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit and asked again for a temporary restraining order.

Governor Northam’s new order will allow churches to hold gatherings at 50 percent capacity.

*Update: The charges against the pastor were eventually dropped. On May 21, 2020, the U.S. District Court denied the church’s emergency motion for an injunction pending appeal.

2. Cassell v. Snyders

In Illinois, The Beloved Church sued because the stay-at-home order infringed on their religious practices. The governor reissued an order allowing churches to meet as long as they abided by the requirement of no more than 10 people. The judge held that the current crisis implicates Jacobson and advances the government’s interest in protecting Illinoisans from the pandemic. It has been appealed to the Seventh Circuit.

3. Legacy Church, Inc. v. Kunkel

In New Mexico, Legacy Church challenged the governor’s executive order, which restricts places of worship to gatherings of no more than five people within a single room. The judge held that the order did not violate the church’s First Amendment because it was neutral and generally applicable.

*Update: On July 13, 2020, the court denied the church’s request for a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction. The judge found that there was no religious animus and that similar restrictions were imposed on secular entities.

4. Calvary Chapel of Bangor v. Mills

In Maine, Calvary Chapel sued Governor Mills over her executive order, which limited gatherings to 10 people. The district judge held that the plaintiff was unlikely to succeed on the merits. The judge found that the order was placed to protect the people from the virus. The judge found the order to be neutral and generally applicable.

*Update: The First Circuit Court of Appeals denied the church’s motion for an injunction pending appeal on June 2, 2020.

5. Elim Romanian Pentecostal Church v. Pritzker

Two churches in Illinois sued because they did not want to abide by the 10-person limit. The judge held that under Jacobson and a First Amendment analysis, the churches lost. The judge found that the order does not target religion. He noted that gatherings at church pose much more risk than gatherings at businesses. Finally, the judge noted that the order had nothing to do with suppressing religion but rather was executed to protect people from the disease.

*Update: After the churches’ request for an injunction pending appeal was denied by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, the case proceeded to the U.S. Supreme Court, which denied the application for injunctive relief because of new guidance issued by the Illinois Department of Public Health on May 28. The case went back to the Seventh Circuit, and a panel of judges affirmed the court’s decision in favor of the governor. The court held that Illinois’s restrictions on the size of church gatherings did not violate the First Amendment. On July 27, the Seventh Circuit denied a request for a rehearing before the full court.

6. Gish v. Newsom

A day after Easter, three church pastors and a congregant sued the state of California, as well as Riverside and San Bernardino counties, for refusing to designate houses of worship as essential services. The social distancing mandates are particularly challenging for James Moffatt of Church Unlimited in Indio, who, the lawsuit complaint said, “believes that scripture commands him as a pastor to lay hands on people and pray for them, this includes the sick.” Here is the church’s complaint.

*Update: Request for a Temporary Restraining Order was denied. The orders were found to be neutral. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals also denied the request for an emergency injunction pending appeal. The case was eventually dismissed on July 8, 2020.

7. Cross Culture Christian Center v. Newsom

After a Lodi, California church was ordered to temporarily shut down, the Cross Culture Christian Center sued. “Plaintiffs have sincerely held religious beliefs, rooted in the Bible, that followers of Jesus Christ are not to forsake the assembling of themselves together, and that they are to do so even more in times of peril and crisis.” Here is the church’s complaint.

*Update: Request for Temporary Restraining Order was denied. The court noted the general police powers to promote safety during a public health crisis.

8. Abiding Place Ministries v. Newsom

The San Diego church Abiding Place Ministries argued that California’s exemptions for non-religious businesses such as “cannabis retailers, grocery stores, pharmacies, supermarkets, big box stores,” betray a preference for non-religious activity. Here is the church’s complaint.

*Update: Request for Preliminary Injunction denied on June 4, 2020 (issue is moot in light of May 25 guidelines).

9. South Bay United Pentecostal Church v. Newsom

With Gov. Newsom declaring a transition from “Phase 1” to “Phase 2” of the state’s pandemic response, allowing for more businesses to open and operate, two religious institutions felt they were not treated equally in the reopening plans. The South Bay United Pentecostal Church in Chula Vista and the Chabad of Carmel Valley synagogue in San Diego are suing, arguing that the revised order restricts their congregation’s free exercise of religion, assembly, speech, and right to due process and that it constitutes “excessive government entanglement with religion.” Here is the church’s complaint.

*Update: Case went to the Supreme Court. Application for injunctive relief was denied May 29, 2020 (Roberts, C.J., concurring) (holding that California’s reopening procedures do not violate the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment). After the decision at the Supreme Court, the church filed an amended complaint with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, challenging the unequal treatment of churches as compared to protests and other secular entities.

10. Spell v. Edwards

Pastor Tony Spell of Life Tabernacle Church in Louisiana filed suit to stop Governor Edwards from enforcing restrictions on him and his church. Spell has proceeded in a manner lacking legal strategy, making it more likely he will lose.

*Update: Motion for Temporary Restraining Order was denied by the district court. On June 18, 2020, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals denied the pastor’s motion for an injunction because the request became moot when the challenged stay-at-home orders expired.

11. Bullock v. Carney

A pastor sued the Governor of Delaware claiming that the executive orders deprive his right to freely exercise his religion. A motion for a Temporary Restraining Order was denied.

12. Elkhorn Baptist Church, et al. v. Brown

More than 10 Oregon churches and multiple individuals brought suit against Governor Brown’s stay-at-home order. When the state started phase one opening, many churches still experienced heavy operating restrictions. The judge ruled that Brown’s executive order was null and void.

*Update: Although the church initially prevailed, the Oregon Supreme Court vacated the preliminary injunction in favor of the church because the lower court erred in holding that the Governor’s orders exceeded a statutory time limit.

Churches Awaiting an Opinion

1. Temple Baptist Church v. City of Greenville (DOJ intervened)

In Mississippi, Temple Baptist Church sued after congregants were ticketed for attending drive-in church services. The attorneys withdrew the request for a temporary restraining order because new guidance was issued.

2. Robinson, Knopfler v. Murphy

St. Thomas More Society is representing a Jewish rabbi and a Catholic priest against New Jersey’s Executive Order 107, which caps gatherings at 10 people. The police halted the celebration of Mass and a Jewish prayer ceremony, which requires 10 men.

*Update: Rabbi Knopfler was arrested in early May for violating the governor’s executive order. The plaintiffs asked the court for leave to file a third amended complaint on July 23, 2020.

3. High Plains Harvest Church v. Polis

High Plains Harvest Church sued Colorado health officials over their ban which prevents churches from gathering. The suit notes that if hundreds of people can gather at Lowe’s, they should be able to gather at church.

*Update: DOJ intervened in the case supporting the church. The district court denied the church’s motion for a temporary restraining order on June 16, 2020. Citing the Supreme Court’s recent decision in South Bay United Pentecostal Church v. Newsom, the court found that the church had “not made a strong showing of a reasonable likelihood of success in this matter.”

4. Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley v. Sisolak

A complaint filed on May 22, 2020 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada, challenging Governor’s ban on church services of more than 10 people; complaint amended May 28, 2020 (updated Phase II plan says that churches not allowed to meet with more than 50 people).

*Update: The church’s motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction was denied by the district court on June 11, 2020. The court found that the church did “not demonstrate[] a likelihood of success on its First Amendment Free Exercise claim.” The U.S. Supreme Court denied the church’s application of injunctive relief on July 24, 2020. Four Justices dissented from the denial: Justice Alito (for himself, Justice Thomas, and Justice Kavanaugh), Justice Gorsuch (for himself), and Justice Kavanaugh (for himself).

5. Calvary Chapel of Ukiah v. Newsom

Three churches in California challenged Governor Newsom’s “ban on singing and chanting activities … in places of worship while permitting the same activities in all other similarly situated indoor uses within the counties where [they] are located.”

6. Harvest Rock Church v. Newsom

Another California church challenged Governor Newsom’s restrictions on singing and chanting during worship services. The church sought a temporary restraining order to prevent the Governor from enforcing the ban. Its request was denied by the court on July 20.

** It should also be noted that some attorneys and legal firms sent letters to localities that resulted in churches being allowed to resume services. They did not get to the point of bringing suit. First Liberty has a list that can be found here.

While there seems to be a split in approaches to how some courts are handling the lawsuits by the church, there is an overwhelming willingness of judges to allow outdoor church services. While the pandemic continues to unfold, we will be monitoring the church lawsuits in the courts and making sure churches are treated equally. Leaders in states less interested in protecting religious liberty during the pandemic should not be permitted to prioritize secular interests over faith-based ones. It is crucial to religious liberty that churches are treated equally; the right to freely exercise one’s religion should not be infringed upon unnecessarily.

Katherine Beck Johnson, J.D. is Research Fellow for Legal and Policy Studies at Family Research Council.

Kaitlyn Shepherd is a legal intern with Policy & Government Affairs at Family Research Council.

One Christian Family’s Story of Unending Persecution in India

by Arielle Del Turco , Lela Gilbert

May 14, 2020

For many westerners, India is an exotic travel destination, offering colorful cultural sites and warm-hearted hospitable people. However, thanks to the new Hindu nationalist leadership of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), today’s India is increasingly marred by religious conflict and Christian persecution. The Purty family’s double tragedy serves as a sad example of this. And for some Indian Christians, their story is not so unusual.

Chamu Hassa Purty was a Christian pastor from Sandih village in Jharkhand State. Late one night in October 2015, he was asked to pray for a sick child. He rushed to the family’s home, prayed for the boy and helped the parents admit him to a local hospital.

Shortly after Pastor Purty returned to his own home, eight armed men forced their way into his house. He and his wife urgently warned their daughters, Sharon and Neelam, to immediately leave the house through a back entrance.

In an interview with Morning Star News, Sharon recalled, “As we were about to move, two of them held us and brought us back to the front room. They fired at my father many times…”

Pastor Purty died of gunshot wounds that night.

After the murder, the Purty family left their village and rarely returned. But recently, because of the coronavirus, it was necessary that they be reunited in their home.

And very soon thereafter, on April 16, anti-Christian terrorists once again appeared at the Purty house. Sharon and her younger brother answered the door and found themselves confronted by two gunmen.

Is this the house of the pastor who was killed?” one of the intruders demanded.

Sharon stared at him as he ranted, “That pastor was killed but you didn’t learn your lesson. You’re still assembling in large numbers for Christian prayers. And where’s the woman who’s working as a spy?”

There are no spies here…”

At that moment Neelam, hearing angry voices, entered the room. The gunman shouted, “She’s the one! She’s the spy!” He aimed his gun and pulled the trigger.

Our father was shot to death in that same room,” Sharon Purty said later. “We cried for help as the two gunmen jumped on a motorbike and fled.”

Neelam Purty sustained serious injuries and was bleeding heavily. She was rushed to a hospital, where it was determined that a bullet was embedded in her thigh and her thighbone was shattered. Only after major surgery was she able to begin her painful recovery.

The police were notified. Evidence was recorded. But it should come as no surprise that there have been no reports of the gunmen being apprehended.

Attacks like those against the Purty family are on the rise in India due to a dangerous ideology gaining steam in the world’s largest democracy—Hindu nationalism. It asserts that India is a nation for Hindus, marginalizing Christians and other minorities.

This movement often inspires mob attacks against Christians. Such attacks, when committed by Hindus, are rarely rebuked by the present Indian government, and the legal system often fails to bring perpetrators of mob violence to justice.

In one instance earlier this year, an Indian pastor was dragged out of his church mid-service by a mob of Hindu nationalists and beaten for hours. Yet when the police arrived, they charged the pastor with violating a blasphemy law rather than charge the radicals for their violent assault.

Even Indian laws pose a threat to minorities, though according to the constitution, India is a secular country. Yet, anti-conversion laws remain on the books in several Indian states. These laws are intended to prevent forced conversions. In reality, they restrict the right to change one’s faith and discourage conversion away from Hinduism.

Some Hindu nationalist leaders are deeply paranoid about Hindus converting to Christianity or other religions. One former member of parliament and member of the BJP party called Christian missionaries “a threat to the unity of the country.”

Inflammatory rhetoric from national leaders, a growing exclusionary movement that ostracizes religious minorities, and draconian blasphemy and anti-conversion laws form a perfect storm for the persecution of Christians in India.

India’s dire religious freedom problems deserves far more international attention than they receive.

India is the world’s largest democracy and a strategic partner of the United States, so it is disappointing its government is failing to protect the fundamental human right to freedom of religion. This makes advocating for religious freedom in India a sensitive subject for some. But the United States has prioritized religious freedom in our foreign policy and must urge all governments around the world—whether friend or foe—to protect it. The United States has an obligation to speak up on behalf of religious minorities in India, even if it ruffles the feathers of our ally.

Nigeria’s Christians and their Endless Persecution

by Lela Gilbert

May 11, 2020

Christians murdered in Nigeria. Attacks on Christian villages across Nigeria. And, just this week, a Nigerian Christian leader, his wife and children shot. Across the past decade, how many times has West Africa’s largest nation been the subject of Christian persecution reports?

And today the country’s tragedy is going from bad to worse. 

In recent weeks, those of us at Family Research Council who focus on international religious freedom have written about Nigerian bloodshed in articles, discussed the country’s woes in radio interviews, and spoken at length with distressed activists. Violent attacks on homes, churches, and schools never seem to diminish. In fact, we’ve learned that more than a few concerned observers believe that Nigeria is on the verge of a Christian genocide.

In recent months the tempo of attacks on Nigeria’s believers has accelerated. It’s true that such activity is rarely reported in mainstream news broadcasts or in legacy newspapers. However, accounts of murdered, maimed, or kidnapped Nigerian Christians are increasingly headlined in religious freedom publications and on Christian websites.

Generally these stories involve rural villages with mostly Christian populations. And the reports are often much the same: well-armed jihadis suddenly appear in the dead of night. They attack house after house, breaking down doors, shouting allahu akbar. They shoot the elderly and able-bodied men. They rape, mutilate, and murder women. They kidnap young boys and girls. They torch houses, schools, and churches. They leave a handful of horrified survivors.

Over the past couple of weeks, new reports have appeared. They have usually involved victims without identities—unknown rural villagers. But on Thursday May 7, we heard from Lord David Alton, an Anglican friend in England, that one of their church’s clergymen and his family had been attacked.

Surprisingly, the grateful survivor told the story himself.

Yes, I was shot in the head, but the bullet didn’t enter. It’s a miracle,” said Rev. Canon Bayo Famonure, who is often called Uncle Bayo by his many friends at Messiah College in Nigeria’s troubled Plateau State. Canon Famonure went on to say that he was also grateful that bullets in his lower extremities had not broken any bones.
 
The three terrorists that attacked the family were Fulani jihadis—so-called “herdsmen”—armed with AK-47s and machetes. After targeting Canon Famonure, they also shot his wife Naomi in the back and his two children in the feet. The bullet that struck the clergyman’s wife barely missed her spinal cord and lodged in her back, but following emergency surgery she was on the mend. In fact, quite miraculously, so was the entire family. But the trauma will not soon be forgotten.

Nigeria’s Christians, who make up around half of the country’s population, are exhausted and distressed by their endless ordeal. They and their neighbors are also infuriated by the state and federal governments’ inability or, worse, unwillingness to defend them. After reporting on the murderous attack on Canon Famonure and his family, a local news source ended its report with a few words of poignant reflection.

Hapless residents are butchered in their sleep, their houses set ablaze and farmlands destroyed….and the government calls for calm. For many…it’s a miracle to go to bed at night and wake up at the break of dawn.”

When we pray, let’s remember to pray for Nigeria and her brutally mistreated Christians. Although many miles away, those believers belong to our spiritual family.

For its Most Filthy and Dangerous Jobs, Pakistan Prefers Christians

by Arielle Del Turco

May 7, 2020

In Pakistan’s largest cities, an army of sewage cleaners plunges clogged sewers by hand, often surrounded by cockroaches and without the protection of gloves or masks. The work is essential to maintaining Pakistan’s shoddy sewage system. But it is also highly dangerous, and sometimes costs workers their lives. For sewage cleaning positions, the most hazardous and filthy of jobs, local governments prefer to hire Christians. Last July, one Pakistani newspaper advertisement was so obvious as to say that only Christians need apply for jobs as sewer cleaners.

I have seen death from very near,” Pakistani street sweeper Michael Sadiq told the New York Times. He described how his friend had died after getting swept away by “putrid black water” in the sewers.

Most Christians in Muslim-majority Pakistan are descendants of lower-caste Hindus, who converted to Christianity by the thousands. The discriminatory legacy of the former Indian caste system haunts them to this day. Often derogatorily called “chuhras” by fellow Pakistanis, these lower-caste Christians are considered “untouchables” or “unclean.”

As some of the poorest people in Pakistan, Christians have limited options for work. They have high illiteracy rates and are often resigned to menial jobs as farmhands, sanitation workers, or street sweepers. But these jobs carry stigmas of their own, reinforcing cultural discrimination against them. According to International Christian Concern, at least 80 percent of Pakistan’s street sweepers, janitors, and sewer workers are Christians.

Street sweeping, like sewage cleaning, is a dangerous job thought to be too demeaning for Muslims. Last month, one Catholic street sweeper in Gujranwala was killed when he was hit by a police car in the road. The family is likely to face pressure to pardon the driver, as officers tried to compensate by giving the family an equivalent of $620 and hiring the man’s son to replace his father.

Cultural discrimination puts Pakistani Christians in real danger—in more ways than one. The vulnerable place that Christians occupy in society also leaves Christian girls disproportionately susceptible to human trafficking. The marginalization of Christians—and the difficulty they face rising out of poverty—makes them easy targets for foreign traffickers, who sell them as brides in China.

The government of Pakistan ought to address the stigmatization of Christians and ensure that religious minorities receive equal treatment in society. Pakistan’s religious discrimination leaves Christians and others vulnerable to real dangers. Pakistan’s government and culture must foster respect for religious freedom, or conditions for religious minorities will never get better.

Christians Met in a Private Chinese Home. Dozens of Officers Shut it Down.

by Arielle Del Turco

May 6, 2020

On May 3, dozens of local security guards and officers raided Xingguang Church, a Protestant church not registered with the Chinese government. The small group of Christians was singing hymns in a private home in China’s Fujian province when they were interrupted by authorities from the local Ethnic and Religious Bureau. These officers pushed their way into the house without warning and without proper legal documents.

Authorities insisted that the gathering was illegal. When church members started recording the raiding incident on their phones, the officers yelled at them to stop. When the officers saw that neighbors were also filming the incident, they removed the family for recording the raid.

Pastor Yang Xibo told Radio Free Asia, “The state security police came banging at the door, then they kicked it down and dragged those in the way outside the doorway, dragging them to the ground.”

This was not Xingguang Church’s first chaotic raid. Authorities previously raided the church on April 12, and accused the pastor of “violating several articles of the religious regulations.”

China’s regulations for churches are strict. Chinese President Xi Jinping has instituted efforts to “sinicize” Christianity. This means in order to get state approval, churches must amend their teachings to appeal to the values of the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP). One element of this long-term plan is “retranslating and annotating” the Bible to find its similarities with socialism and to discover the “correct understanding” of scripture.

To submit a church to the authority of the state-sanctioned church associations is to submit to the influence of the CCP. Churches that refuse to do so, like Xingguang Church, often face harassment from the government.

Last week’s report from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom found that China raided or closed down hundreds of house churches in 2019. Catholic Bishops who refuse to join the state-affiliated Catholic association faced harassment and detention.

The status of religious freedom is not improving in China. At the end of December, Pastor Wang Yi, who had founded one of China’s largest house churches, was sentenced to nine years in prison—a harsh sentence and a clear indication that China’s assault on religious freedom continues.  

Worshiping in an unsanctioned house church can expose Christians to abuse by the Chinese government. Yet, millions of believers persist in gathering every week. All because they want to worship God as they see fit, even with the risks involved.

To learn more about the status of religious freedom in China, see FRC’s publication, Religious Freedom in China: The History, Current Challenges, and the Proper Response to a Human Rights Crisis.

New Report Reveals Rising Hostility to Religion in China

by Arielle Del Turco

May 4, 2020

Last week, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) recommended that China keep its designation as a “Country of Particular Concern”—a label the U.S. government gives to the world’s worst violators of religious freedom. USCIRF’s 2020 annual report found China deserving of this title because “religious freedom conditions continued to deteriorate” in 2019, noting abuses against Uyghurs, Tibetan Buddhists, Christians, Falun Gong, and other religious groups. USCIRF’s report offers policy recommendations for the U.S. government to address the swift decline of religious freedom in China, and American officials should take these recommendations to heart as religious believers endure persecution in China.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) detains an estimated 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang facilities the CCP calls “vocational schools” but operate as brainwashing centers. USCIRF noted that former detainees “report that they suffered torture, rape, sterilization, and other abuses.” It is not just the detained individuals who suffer; their families feel the effects as well. USCIRF’s report noted that almost half a million Muslim children are separated from their parents and left to be raised by the state. Communist party officials are sent to live with and report on other Uyghur families in Xinjiang.

USCIRF also found that Tibetan Buddhists continue to be victims of the CCP’s disdain. Last summer, the CCP displaced up to 6,000 Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns after destroying their residences. The Commission also highlighted the Chinese government’s strange obsession with interfering in the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama.

By the end of 2019, the CCP proved it has no intention of slowing down—or even hiding—its accelerating religious persecution. Pastor Wang Yi, a well-known house church pastor who had long avoided the state-affiliated church association, was sentenced to nine years in prison in December 2019. USCIRF reported that several local governments offered money to anyone willing to inform on house churches in their area.

Meanwhile, the decades-long persecution of peaceful Falun Gong practitioners continues. Thousands of Falun Gong adherents were arrested last year alone, and evidence continues to mount that the government is harvesting the organs of political prisoners, including Uyghurs and the Falun Gong.

The Commission’s report also noted that, while the Hong Kong protests were not about religious freedom, many pastors joined the protests against the Chinese government’s encroachment into the semi-autonomous city. Church leaders feared that the extradition bill which sparked the protests “would have undermined their ability to advocate without fear of retaliation.”

Early 2020, which is beyond the reporting period of USCIRF’s report, saw the Chinese government scrambling to deal with the coronavirus. But during this worldwide pandemic, which originated within its borders, the CCP continued its oppression of religious believers largely uninterrupted.

While the rest of the world battled the virus, the CCP continued removing crosses from church buildings across China. In one case, Xiangbaishu Church in Yixing City was vandalized and completely gutted.

The government exploited the pandemic, using it as an excuse to further abuse the Uyghur Muslim minority. In Xinjiang, where most Uyghurs live, the coronavirus lockdown instituted by the government was particularly intense, enforced suddenly and without warning. Residents did not have time to store food and supplies, leaving many families hungry. Governments reveal their priorities by what they choose to focus on during a crisis. For the Chinese government, religious suppression is a priority.

To address China’s egregious religious freedom violations, USCIRF recommends the U.S. government take several actions. One notable recommendation is to express concern that Beijing will be holding the 2022 Winter Olympic Games while perpetrating grave human rights violations. Significantly, the Commission also calls for the U.S. government to support the Uyghur Forced Labor Act that has been introduced in the U.S. Senate. If passed, the U.S. would assume all products imported from Xinjiang are made with forced labor and thereby ban them unless the company can prove otherwise. The Uyghur Forced Labor Act would be an effective way to address China’s human rights violations because it prevents the government from profiting from their forced labor program, which is suspected of using Uyghur detainees in Xinjiang.

USCIRF’s latest report confirms that the ruling Chinese Communist Party has little tolerance for religion and that holding an allegiance to a higher power than the state can make you a target for government surveillance, intimidation, or arbitrary detention. While China seeks to consolidate global influence, its leaders continue to dig their heels in on their repressive policies toward religion. USCIRF has called upon the U.S. government to address China’s stark religious freedom violations. For the sake of millions of religious believers suffering at the hands of the Chinese government, the U.S. government should embrace USCIRF’s recommendations, and the rest of the world should be inspired to follow suit.

FRC’s Top 7 Trending Items Over the Past 7 Days

by Family Research Council

May 1, 2020

Introducing “The 7”! Each week, we’ll share Family Research Council’s top seven trending items over the past seven days.

Here’s this week’s 7 top trending items:

1. Washington Update: “In Iran, a Hotspot of Misery”

Currently in Iran there is an astonishing coronavirus death toll, which is the largest in the Middle East. Amid this COVID-19 crisis, the Iranian government continues to neglect its people, who are already overwhelmed by threats of war and starvation. In addition, they are threatening the world with a military missile launch.

Also, in an interview with Tony Perkins on Washington Watch, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo provided analysis on Iran’s threats and foreign propaganda efforts to blame the United States for the spread of coronavirus. Go to FRC’s SoundCloud to listen to this important interview.

2. Washington Update: “Govs Get Their Priorities out in the Re-open”

We are at a point in the COVID-19 pandemic where states are beginning to decide whether or not to begin the process of reopening in order to save their economies. After President Trump and the White House Coronavirus Task Force provided guidelines to help states move forward with reopening, some governors are giving their citizens the freedom to decide for themselves what is best for their success and wellbeing.

Also, Dr. Roger Marshall, U.S. Representative for the 1st district of Kansas, talked with Tony Perkins on Washington Watch and shared his thoughts on this issue and about his decision to remain in his district to treat COVID-19 patients while Congress votes to replenish the Paycheck Protection Program.

3. Washington Update: “Virus Brings Unlikely Faith Fellows Together”

The coronavirus has and is producing fear in a time that feels uncertain, but the reality is that life is always uncertain—we are not even promised tomorrow. Given the current climate and circumstance that we all now find ourselves in, it is imperative that we come together to help our loved ones and neighbors, and to keep our eyes open for the light and hope in the darkness. In New York City’s Central Park, an unlikely partnership between one family and one organization formed to help those in need in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.

4. Blog: “Why We Remember the Armenian Genocide”

Last week marked the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, a terrible historical event that has not received the attention it deserves. On April 24, 1915, heavily armed troops rounded up hundreds of Armenian professors, lawyers, doctors, clergymen, and other elites in Constantinople (now Istanbul). It was the beginning of an annihilation campaign carried out by the Ottoman Empire aimed at killing thousands of Christian Armenians, to eliminate them from society. In a time when Christians are being persecuted around the world, it is important to remember and learn from history.

5. FRC’s “Guidelines for Reopening Your Church”

This week, FRC initiated a poll on Facebook asking our audience, “Is it time for state and local officials to give more freedom to individuals and businesses, trusting them to manage the coronavirus health risks and re-open?” President Trump and the White House Coronavirus Task Force recently announced a three-phase plan with guidelines for states to begin softening restrictions on social distancing. This will enable churches and businesses to begin re-opening. To safely begin this process, FRC put together some best practices and tips for churches and places of worship to consider when crafting reopening plans.

6. Washington Watch: Ken Blackwell Urges Freedom Over Fear When Easing Restrictions

Ken Blackwell, FRC’s Senior Fellow for Human Rights and Constitutional Governance, joined Tony Perkins in an interview on Washington Watch to discuss how are states moving to partially reopen and limit the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the economy while still avoiding public health risks. Watch the interview on FRC’s YouTube page or listen on SoundCloud.

7. Washington Watch: Tony Perkins Discusses USCIRF’s 2020 Annual Report

This week, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) released their “2020 Annual Report” with recommendations for U.S. policy to improve the state of religious freedom around the world. Tony Perkins, Chair of USCIRF and host of Washington Watch, joined guest host Sarah Perry to discuss the gains and losses to religious freedom as well as apostasy and blasphemy laws in countries around the world.

For more from FRC, visit our website at frc.org, our blog at frcblog.org, our Facebook page, Twitter account, and Instagram account. Get the latest on what FRC is saying about the current issues of the day that impact the state of faith, family and freedom, both domestically and abroad. Check out “The 7” at the end of every week to get our highlights of the week’s trending items. Have a great weekend!

How to Learn More About the Plight of North Koreans

by Arielle Del Turco

May 1, 2020

In recognition of North Korea Freedom Week, Family Research Council is raising awareness about the plight of Christians in the world’s most secretive country. This three-part blog series highlights the dire human rights and religious freedom situation in North Korea. Read Part 1 and Part 2.

The challenges faced by North Koreans can be difficult to comprehend. North Korea is a completely isolated country where the government controls its citizens’ access to information, tightly restricts their movements, and forces them to idolize political leaders. It is also very difficult for the rest of the world to attain accurate information about this secretive country. Yet, we do know that North Korea is one of the world’s worst violators of human rights and religious freedom. The fact that 25 million people live under such an oppressive regime is a human problem—one that should concern us all. Therefore, we ought to pay close attention to what is happening in North Korea and raise awareness about what its people endure every day.

In order to make a difference, we must first become informed. Here are some ideas on how you can learn more about the plight of the North Korean people, including Christians.

Listen to the Stories of North Korean Defectors

The best way to learn what life is like inside North Korea is to listen to the stories of those who have lived there. The following are just a few of the many powerful stories of North Korean defectors.

Testimony of Ji Hyeon-a: Family Research Council hosted North Korean defector Ji Hyeon-a to share her story last year. Ji is a Christian who was beaten by North Korean authorities for her faith and experienced a myriad of tragic struggles before making her way to freedom in South Korea.

Under the Same Sky by Joseph Kim: Joseph was a young boy during the 1990s famine in North Korea, eventually leading him to beg and steal. He later escaped across the border into China, where he became a Christian, before making his way to the United States. His book paints a vivid picture of life in the hermit kingdom.

Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick: Nothing to Envy features the stories of six North Koreans from different backgrounds. Well-researched and easy to read, this book is an excellent introduction to life in North Korea and the recent history of the regime.

Do Your Research

In addition to hearing the stories of North Koreans, it is important to understand how the regime abuses its people. Reviewing the following reports will give you a more comprehensive perspective of the evils perpetrated by the Kim family dictators.

UN Human Rights Report: This 2014 United Nations report revealed the many human rights violations perpetrated by the North Korean regime. The horrors include starvation, enslavement, torture, and murder.

USCIRF 2020 Religious Freedom Report: The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom develops an annual report on the world’s worst violators of religious freedom, including North Korea. This report is vital to understanding the plight of religious believers in North Korea. It also provides suggestions for how the U.S. government can start to address the regime’s grave religious freedom violations.

Follow Organizations that Support North Korean Defectors

Liberty in North Korea: Liberty in North Korea is an organization that helps North Korean escapees and gives a voice to their stories. Their documentary, The Jangmadang Generation, will change the way you think about the future of North Korea.

Voice of the Martyrs: Voice of the Martyrs raises awareness about the persecution of Christians around the world. Some of their ministry has focused on aiding North Korean Christians in China and giving voice to their stories.

Use Your Knowledge

Learning about the challenges of others is important, but this education should spur us on to engagement. Stay informed and inform others. Pray for the North Korean people and leaders, but also pray about how God might be calling you to act on their behalf. Learning is just the first step to making a difference—the next steps are up to you. 

How You Can Pray for North Korea and its Persecuted Christians

by Arielle Del Turco

April 29, 2020

In recognition of North Korea Freedom Week, Family Research Council is raising awareness about the plight of Christians in the world’s most secretive country. This three-part blog series highlights the dire human rights and religious freedom situation in North Korea. See the first one here.

With rumors swirling about the health of Kim Jong Un and speculation over whether North Korea really has “zero” coronavirus cases as claimed, the world’s attention has once again turned to the most secretive country on earth. This heightened attention should remind us to pray for North Korea’s estimated 300,000 Christians.

North Korea has absolutely no religious freedom. The atheistic regime, which exerts near-total control over all aspects of life, presents many challenges for Christians. They must keep their faith a secret, sometimes even from their own families.

Christians in North Korea are isolated from a faith community. They cannot meet with large groups of fellow believers for worship, for fear of someone informing the regime. Nor can they show any public expression of their faith. Doing so may land them in a labor camp—if they are not killed on the spot. The stakes are exceptionally high: if the government discovers a Christian, the Christian’s family often endures the same punishment.

As Christians, we are obligated to care for our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ. When the early church was starting to experience persecution, the Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 12:26, “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” Although it is difficult for American Christians to imagine the lives of North Korean believers, we should feel a connection to Christians there, as we are all children of God (Rom. 8:16-17). We should empathize with fellow believers who suffer for the faith. One way to do this is through prayer.

Here are three ways you can pray for North Korea and its persecuted Christians: 

1) Pray that God would strengthen the faith of Christians to withstand persecution, and that He would meet their physical needs.

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18

Christians in North Korea are extremely isolated and may even feel pressure to hide their beliefs from their family members. Pray that God would give them the strength to endure difficult circumstances and that He would meet their practical needs. Pray for an end to persecution and to labor and prison camps. Pray that God would soften the hearts of North Korean leaders.

2) Pray for North Korean defectors who cross the border into China.

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” Psalm 46:1

When North Korean defectors flee, they most often escape through China, a country with many human rights issues of its own. Defectors—most of whom are female—are often trafficked. If caught by the Chinese government, defectors are usually repatriated back to North Korea and sent to a labor camp. Defectors who return to North Korea after becoming pregnant in China often endure painful forced abortions in the camps.  

Yet, those who escape North Korea are also more likely to hear the gospel in China. Chinese churches and South Korean missionaries that work along the Chinese-North Korean border minister to defectors and even help them escape to South Korea. Pray for successful escapes by North Korean defectors, for their safety while in China, and that they would encounter Christianity as many attempt to continue their journey to South Korea or elsewhere.

3) Pray for the future of North Korea.

But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” Jeremiah 29:7

North Koreans have proved to be an industrious people. When their communist government failed them and a famine cost the lives of anywhere from 240,000 to two million people in the mid-1990s, many rejected communist propaganda and started trading and creating products to sell in local markets in order to feed their families. Most of these new capitalists are women, and some say this economic development is starting to change the country from the inside. Though the current North Korean regime is oppressive and its current ruler, Kim Jong Un, is a brutal dictator, North Koreans are capable of forging a bright future if given the chance. We ought to pray they get that chance.

If the rumors of Kim Jong Un’s ill health are true, the future of North Korea is even more uncertain. However, even if the reports come to nothing and the media hype fades, North Korea still deserves our attention. The Kim dynasty has developed one of the most oppressive regimes on earth, and North Koreans must live with that reality regardless of whether their country is featured in international news or not. The movement to advance human rights in North Korea faces monumental challenges. The desperate needs of North Koreans should spur us on to pray without ceasing and advocate for their freedom to the best of our ability.

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