Jerusalem Post

President Trump: Religious Freedom Is Rare in the World

Adjunct Fellow, Center for Religious Freedom
(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

On September 23, US President Donald Trump confronted the United Nations about a subject no American president has so specifically addressed before: international religious freedom.

Trump began with a clear declaration: “The United States is founded on the principle that our rights do not come from government. They come from God.”

He continued: “…Approximately 80% of the world’s population live in countries where religious liberty is threatened, restricted or even banned. When I heard that number, I said, ‘Please go back and check it because it can’t possibly be correct.’ And, sadly, it was. Eighty percent.

“As we speak, Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, Yazidis and many other people of faith are being jailed, sanctioned, tortured and even murdered, often at the hands of their own governments, simply for expressing their deeply held religious beliefs...”

Trump cited a dire global statistic, which seems to have taken him by surprise: “It is estimated that 11 Christians are killed every day… for following the teachings of Christ. Who would even think that’s possible in this day and age? Who would think it’s possible?”

Yes, Mr. President, it’s more than possible. It’s absolutely true that Christians are suffering intense persecution worldwide. Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom (CRF) affirms that every month, about 345 Christians are killed for “faith-based” reasons and 105 churches or Christian buildings are burned or attacked. Globally, one in nine Christians experiences persecution.

Take Sri Lanka, for example. On Easter Sunday 2019, some 325 Christians were killed in three churches and three hotels, with at least 500 more injured by ISIS terrorists. In that same region, the persecution of Christians in Pakistan, India and Afghanistan – often vicious and violent – continues to rise.

In Nigeria, some 4,000 Christians were slaughtered in 2018 and thousands more so far in 2019 – either by the notorious ISIS-supporting Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram, or by Fulani jihadists. More than a few observers claim that another genocide is taking place, with no tangible effort made by the Nigerian government or international authorities to intervene. And those same terrorist gangs are leaving a bloodstained trail across West Africa’s Sahel.

In China and North Korea – both notorious atheistic regimes that viciously persecute people of faith – there is virtually no way to determine precisely how many arrests, imprisonments, “disappearances” and executions of Christians are taking place.

What is well known, however, is that China’s severe crackdown on religious believers exploded in February 2018. Since then, churches have been systematically destroyed, while pastors, parishioners and priests are arrested or “disappeared.” Crosses are knocked down, Bibles shredded and religious art ripped off the walls of religious homes, often forcibly replaced by the image of dictator Xi Jinping.

Meanwhile, China’s religious persecution is hardly limited to Christians.

Millions of Uighur Muslims in China’s Xinjiang Autonomous Region are helpless against the Chinese government’s Orwellian anti-Uighur “re-education” program, which has become the largest and most calculated abuse of religious freedom in today’s world.

Hi-tech surveillance utilizes millions of “trackers”: CCTV cameras and hand held devices equipped with cameras or ID scanners; voice and facial recognition software; and DNA sampling, along with home invasion and authorities’ confiscation of personal cellphones. Countless Uighur disappearances, incarcerations and executions have lifted China’s human rights offenses to horrifying new levels.

ON ANOTHER front, Pew Research reported in 2015 that, “the tumultuous Middle East – where Christianity, Judaism and Islam originated – still stands out as the area of the world with the highest levels of social hostilities involving religion. Iraq was one of 10 countries in the region where social hostilities increased, due to violent acts by both Sunni- and Shia-dominated groups and militias, including the Islamic State.”

To make matters worse, while Christians, Yazidis, Baha’is and other non-Muslim groups struggle for survival in the Middle East, antisemitism continues to surge worldwide. Israeli Jews are secure in the Middle East because of Israel – the Jewish state – whose raison d’être is to retain and protect the land and population of the Jews’ ancient, ancestral home.

But beyond Israel’s strategically-defended borders, the fate of Jews is less promising. In late 2018, the FBI released its annual statistics: Hate crime incidents targeting Jews and Jewish institutions in the US spiked about 37% between 2016 and 2017.

More recently, the US president pointed out, “In the past year, the United States endured horrifying antisemitic attacks against Jewish Americans at synagogues in Pennsylvania and California.”

My colleague Nina Shea, who serves as director of the Center for Religious Freedom, explains: “In the last year, we’ve seen the first mass shootings of American Jews in Pittsburgh and Poway synagogues, carried out by two men driven by notions of white supremacy. We’ve also seen near-daily violent assaults on Hasidic Jews walking the streets of their Brooklyn, New York, neighborhood, carried out by young men of various ethnic backgrounds.

“Then there’s the BDS movement to boycott and destroy Israel, the world’s only Jewish state, which is active on many American college campuses. Jewish students are reportedly intimated and even physically assaulted in the US and UK.”

The story in Europe is equally disturbing. According to Simone Rodan-Benzaquen, who serves as European director of the American Jewish Committee (AJC), in France and Germany, there were 1,799 attacks against Jews in 2018, with 1.3 violent acts taking place every day. Questions persist about the precise roots of the violence, but the mass influx of immigrating Islamists from the Middle East has clearly exacerbated the issue.

Trump concluded his UN remarks: “Today, I ask all nations to join us in this urgent moral duty. We ask the governments of the world to honor the eternal right of every person to follow their conscience, live by their faith, and give glory to God. The United States has a vital role in this critical mission.”

Yes. Certainly, the global community needs to wake up. We can only hope and pray that country after country will decisively choose to deny and defeat acts of religious persecution and antisemitism. And may they do so without falsehood, voluntary blindness or politically correct hypocrisy.

The world is watching.

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