In post 9-11 America, we saw the rise of prejudice and persecution against Islamic Americans. Numerous television shows have aired programs aimed at exposing and condemning the persecution of someone because of their practice of the Islamic faith. I applaud the outcry against such discriminatory practices.
The freedom of individuals to believe in, practice, and promote the religion of choice without (government) interference, harrassment, or other repercussions – as long as practices based on, or resulting from, those beliefs do not break the law (e.g. do not encourage or result in fraud, tax evasion, murder, terrorism, acts designed to undermine the government or the constitution, the use of unethical persuasion tactics, etcetera).
The practice of discouraging religious freedom and the freedom to express and/or promote all or certain religious beliefs – with repercussions ranging from discrimination and harassment to prevention and prosecution (by legal and/or illegal means). Does not cover legitimate legal measures designed to prevent and/or prosecute illegal practices such as fraud, tax evasion, murder, terrorism, acts designed to undermine the government or the constitution, the use of unethical persuasion tactics, etcetera.
a) Refusing to acknowledge and support the right of individuals to have their own beliefs and related legitimate practices.
b) Also, the unwillingness to have one’s own beliefs and related practices critically evaluated.
The following do not constitute religious intolerance:
• Excercizing the right to challenge a religion’s claims (e.g. regarding alleged compatibility with, or superiority over, other religious beliefs)
• Condemning and disallowing illegal practices
• Rejecting a movement’s claim to be a ”religion” when there is sufficient evidence showing religion is used as a cover (e.g. the Church of Scientology).
Acknowledging and supporting that individuals have the right and freedom to their own beliefs and related legitimate practices, without necessarily validating those beliefs or practices.
Yet while we are doing much to try to protect the right of Muslims to practice their faith in the United States, we remain silent when it comes to a much larger problem: the persecution of Christians around the world. The average man on the street knows little about the widespread persecution of Christians.
According to Article 18 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, religious persecution exists if any of three essential freedoms are denied. The three are “1) The freedom to practice your religion – without interference; 2) The freedom to spread your religion – without harassment; and 3) The freedom to change your religion – without penalty.” These tenants are routinely violated in many countries in our world today.
According to Chuck Colson, “More Christians died for their faith in the twentieth century than in the previous nineteen centuries combined.”
Persecution of Christians for their faith is found as close as Cuba, where Christian persecution by the communist leadership includes physical abuse and imprisonment. In Mexico armed assailants recently killed evangelicals. While this may not be government-sanctioned persecution, it is persecution nonetheless.
Persecution is commonplace in China where Christians who do not belong to a government-approved sect are subject to imprisonment and torture. Amnesty International reported cases of Christian women “hung by their thumbs from wires and beaten with heavy rods, denied food and water, and shocked with electric probes.”
In Egypt and Pakistan Christians have been imprisoned and tortured merely for preaching their faith. In most countries where Islam is the established religion, it is against the law to read literature promoting any faith other than Islam. Bibles are banned and conversion from Islam to another religion is against the law and often punishable by death.
Friends of ours were missionaries in Yemen. The missionaries were allowed in for medical reasons. They were required to live on a compound. They were not allowed to tell their patients about Christ unless the patient asked a specific question that could be answered only with a presentation of the gospel. If such a question was asked and reported to the authorities, the missionary would not be punished for answering, but the questioner could be imprisoned for asking.
Pakistan recently passed a blasphemy law that forbids speaking or acting against the prophet Mohammed. The punishment for violators is death. A 12- year-old Christian child was recently sentence to death under this law and was freed from Pakistan only by international pressure.
Sudan is one of the worst violators. Its Islamic government has engaged in a policy of forcible conversion. Those who resisted conversion because of Christian beliefs were denied food and medicine by the Sudanese government during a famine, and thousands of Christian children were sold into slavery. Muslims who converted to Christianity were imprisoned and sentenced to death.
Here in America, persecution for religious observance and beliefs is subtler. Our judiciary is gradually moving us toward the repression of religion in the public square under the banner of “separation of church and state.”
In Texas U.S. District Judge Samuel B. Kent decreed that any student uttering the word Jesus at a school’s graduation would be arrested and locked up. He stationed a US Marshal in attendance with instructions that any student violating his injunction be “summarily arrested and face up to six months incarceration in the Galveston County Jail for contempt of court.”
In Missouri, when fourth-grader Raymond Raines bowed his head in prayer before his lunch in the cafeteria of Waring Elementary School in St. Louis, he was sent to the principal’s office. After his third prayer “offense,” he was segregated from his classmates, ridiculed for his religious beliefs, and given one week’s detention.
In New York’s Saratoga Springs School kindergartner Kayla Broadus recited the familiar prayer – “God is great, God is good. Thank you, God, for my food” – while holding hands with two students at her snack table. She was silenced and scolded by her teacher, who reported the infraction to the school’s lawyer, Gregg T. Johnson. He concluded that her behavior was a violation of the “separation of church and state.”
The ACLU used “separation of church and state” to get a banner removed from outside a school following 9-11. The banner read, “God Bless America.” They sued our parish for the posting of “Jesus is Lord over Franklinton” signs on public highway right-of-ways. The mantra was used to deny a little, handicapped girl the right to read her Bible on the bus on the long trip to school.
This so-called constitutional doctrine is inferred from the first amendment, which states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibit the free exercise thereof.”
I, for one, do not believe the framers of the constitution intended for a prayer of a kindergartner in a public school to be considered “establishment of religion.”
I believe that they would regard stopping the child prohibiting “the free exercise thereof.”
Americans need to wake up and recognize the dangers of denying religious freedom. When we look at other nations and how religious intolerance results in torture and imprisonment, we should be motivated to demand change abroad and at home.