On Thursday, May 3, a press conference was held in Washington, D.C., at the National Press Club’s Bloomberg Room in hopes to address religious freedom and the dramatic increase in the persecution of Christians.
According to reports, nearly 70 percent of the world’s 6.8 billion people live in countries with little or no freedom of religion, including many countries in the Middle East and Africa.
About 20 print and broadcast media outlets, and others, gathered to hear from Dr. Carl Moeller, president/CEO of Open Doors USA; Nina Shea, director for religious freedom at the Hudson Institute; Rev. Dr. Katharine Rhodes Henderson, president of Auburn Theological Seminary in New York City; Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, director of Interfaith Affairs for the Simon Wiesenthal Center; who were among the panel of speakers that addressed the issue of embattled Christian communities. (Rabbi Abraham Cooper, Associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, was also scheduled to participate. However, he was unable to stay due to a family emergency. Adlerstein shared a statement from Cooper at the press conference.)
“We at Open Doors USA were here to champion the rights of persecuted Christians around the world,” said Moeller. “Basically, the thought behind the whole conference was to demonstrate a unity in regard to religious freedom.”
He said that the persecution of Christians and the attack on religious freedom was a major problem around the world. These organizations are coming together to say that it needs to be stopped. They are calling on government officials and the administration for help. There are also tools in place, such as the Congressional Scorecard (available at www.opendoorsusa.org) to help. Additionally, they are in support of HR 440, a bill that calls for the establishment of the Special Envoy to Promote Religious Freedom of Religious Minorities in the Near East and in South Central Asia. Proposed by Congressman Frank Wolf, the bill was read the second time on January 23, 2012 and it has been placed on the Senate Legislative Calendar under General Orders (Calendar No. 292).
“It is important to everyone involved to come together as a group to say we are going to call on the United States government, administration, and the candidates, President Obama and Mitt Romney, to make our religious freedom a major component of the discussion of our freedoms here in the United States,” Moeller said.
To go hand-in-hand with the raised awareness, Open Doors USA has been urging candidates for the past several months to sign the Presidential Pledge for Religious Freedom. A candidate’s signature indicates that he or she commits to upholding religious freedom for people of all faiths in America, nominating U.S. federal judges who are committed to upholding religious freedom as defined in the pledge and prioritizing religious freedom concerns in U.S. foreign policy.
Individuals can help by signing a petition that urges presidential candidates to sign the pledge. To sign the petition, go to advocacy.opendoorsusa.org. The petition stresses to candidates that the public cares about religious freedom. Signing it says that they urge the president to protect and promote it.
National security is among the issues that are being addressed. Moeller said they are in communication with the U.S. National Security group and a meeting will be held in the near future. They have also been in contact with White House officials and congressional offices. Several meetings are scheduled for this week.
“If we look back in history, not very far, to the Reagan administration, when we were facing a different sort of entity, but an entity nonetheless, that persecuted religious freedom, horribly,” Moeller said.
He said religious freedom advocates including Jews, Christians and Muslims got together and partnered with the Reagan administration to create a whole series of policies, helping to promote religious freedom.
One of the top questions raised at the press conference was “Is the U.S. government doing enough?” Other concerns revolved around the discussion of Arab Spring, which has turned into a nightmare for Christians in the Middle East.
As persecution of Christians and the violation of religious freedoms are on the rise, recent headlines tell only a part of a much bigger story.
“We cannot idly stand by while there are major human rights violations in places such as Egypt and Nigeria,” Moeller said. “Already thousands have fled Islamic terrorism in those countries. We need to speak out now with a renewed urgency. We must fight for freedom of religion for all imperiled faith groups.”
“The Christians in the Middle East have become the new Jews of our times," said Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, director of Interfaith Affairs for the Simon Wiesenthal Center, in a press release prior to the press conference. "We call on all people of faith, and all Americans, to speak up for the embattled Christians in the Middle East and Africa, and against the disturbing pattern of violence against other faiths and places of worship."
A recent example was the late April attack in northern Nigeria, when a gunmen reportedly killed at least 21 Christians and wounded 22 in two attacks during worship services held at a university and church.
Experts convey that these types of events are generally not random attacks, as they're often characterized in the media. They are intentional, and they’re designed with sole purpose of eliminating Christianity.
Officials said that Christians are particularly at risk on Christian holy days such as Christmas and Easter. Another case was reported last Christmas when a suicide bomb attack at a church in Madalla killed 44 church members. On December 31, in response to the attacks in northern Nigeria, President Goodluck Jonathan on declared a state of emergency in some areas, deploying the military and other security agencies.
Nigeria is ranked No. 13 on the 2012 Open Doors World Watch List of 50 countries which are the worst persecutors of Christians. According to the World Watch List, Nigeria had at least 300 martyrs in 2011, although the actual number could be doubled or tripled. That number is the most in any country although North Korea could have had more but information is hard to obtain due to the isolation of the communist state.
Middle East experts and international freedom organizations agree that another widely publicized case – Youcef Nadarkhani's case – is one that has caused the worldwide community to transcend politics in support for the Iranian Christian pastor, proving there is heightened awareness for religious freedom. Nadarkhani has been awaiting a final decision on his death sentence for his faith.
Elsewhere around the world – in places like Syria and Egypt – Christians and other minorities are dying for their faith. In the United States, there has been a gradual eroding of religious freedoms.
Last month the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) included Egypt, Eritrea, Iraq, Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Sudan among 16 countries on its “Countries of Particular Concern” list. The report said that “across the global landscape, the pivotal human right of religious freedom was under escalating attack.”
For more information about Open Doors USA, call (888) 5-BIBLE-5 or (888) 524-2535 or go to www.OpenDoorsUSA.org.
Publication date: May 7, 2012