We will advocate on behalf of religious freedom and threatened minorities. Religious minorities continue to be victims of violence. We will place a priority on protecting these groups and will continue working with regional partners to protect minority communities from attacks and to preserve their cultural heritage. (National Security Strategy, December 2017)
In 2017, Concerned Women for America was on the front lines fighting for America’s religious freedom, from petitioning President Trump to protect the First Amendment, to rallying support for Jack Phillips at the Supreme Court in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. Today we extend that fight to oppressed countries around the world, where Christians and other religious minorities are imprisoned, beaten, and often killed for their beliefs. As we do, we bind our efforts with the Trump Administration and the National Security Strategy of December 2017, which proposes to advance American influence and values with the priority action of “protecting religious freedom and religious minorities” around the world.
Violence against people of faith occurs globally in multiple ways–including terrorism, religious extremism, and genocide–as in the case of the murder of thousands of Yezidis, Christians, and Shi’a Muslims by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. In addition, state persecution violates religious freedom in some countries, such as in the Islamic Republic of Iran, a theocratic state. In Iran, Shia Muslim clergy, along with political leaders who are vetted by the clergy, dominate the major state power structures. In many areas of the Middle East, threats to Christianity stem from Islamic radicalism and terrorist groups, while in Iran the main threats to Christianity come from the government. Although some tolerance is shown for historically Christian groups in Iran, Muslim converts to Christianity can be under threat of immediate punishment by death.
According to the Open Doors World Watch List 2018, which lists the “50 countries where it’s most dangerous to follow Jesus”, the top ten countries are (in order from 1-10): North Korea, Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan, Pakistan, Eritrea, Libya, Iraq, Yemen and Iran. Open Door reports that two hundred fifteen (215) million Christians experienced high to extreme levels of persecution during the reporting period of January to October 2017. This number represents one in every 12 Christians worldwide, and includes killings, abductions, rape, sexual harassment, and attacks against churches. Open Door attributes this high number to three primary causes: 1) the spread of radical Islam and the use of Sharia law in Asia and Africa; 2) the rise of religious nationalism used to marginalize religious minorities and increase government power in Asia; and 3) a “grassroots revival of Islam” in Central Asia.
President Trump declared January 16, 2018, as “Religious Freedom Day,” noting in his declaration that our forefathers believed “freedom is not a gift from the government, but a sacred right from Almighty God.” During 2018 CWA will be monitoring religious persecution around the world to advocate for freedom and report the most important issues to our constituents. Please stand with CWA as we fight for religious freedom around the world.
Dr. Shea Garrison serves as CWA’s Senior Advisor for Foreign Affairs.