Updated, September 2018
A SNAPSHOT OF THE CURRENT GLOBAL ENVIRONMENT
83% of the world’s population (4 out of 5 ppl) live with a high to very high level of restriction on religious practice. Specifically, 42% of countries have high or very high levels of both government and civil restrictions, up from 40% in 2015. (Some of the world’s most populous countries have the worst religious restrictions.) Source: Pew Research; most recent data available is from 2016.
18 countries* in the world have apostasy laws or policies and practices that are equivalent. The countries are located in the Near East, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia. In some Muslim-majority countries, an apostate, one who has converted away from a religion, can be executed for his apostasy. This punishment is rarely meted out by the state.
More common are non-lethal forms of punishment, which include monetary fines, vocational discrimination, and prison terms. Societally, apostasy laws create a hostile environment for religious minority communities, which can occasionally turn violent. Sources: Library of Congress, State Department, US Commission on International Religious Freedom
In the most recent Pew report, more countries (55) in 2016 scored 4.5 or higher on the Government Restrictions Index. Up from 50 countries in 2015. And one more country was added to the total of those scoring high on the Social Hostilities Index (3.6 or higher). Social Hostilities are categorized as “acts of religious hostility by private individuals, organizations, or groups in society.” Government Restrictions are “laws, policies, and actions that restrict religious beliefs and practices.” Source: Pew Research
Percentage of the countries in a region that experienced government harassment or use of force against religious groups in 2015.
Middle East-North Africa: 95%
Sub-Saharan Africa: 83
Source: Pew Research
THE U.S. GOVERNMENT’S ROLE IN FIGHTING FOR INTERNATIONAL RELIGIOUS FREEDOM (IRF)
The “International Religious Freedom Act of 1998” was a legislative milestone enabling the U.S. government to dedicate needed resources to fighting for the religious rights of all faiths of all peoples everywhere. The law established the means whereby religious freedom could be promoted. These means include:
The Office of International Religious Freedom at the U.S. State Department led by the “Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom.”
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).
A member of the President’s National Security Council tasked with being the “Special Adviser on International Religious Freedom.”
Source: State Dept.
The Office of International Religious Freedom “monitor[s] religious persecution and discrimination worldwide, recommend[s] and implement[s] policies in respective regions or countries, and develop[s] programs to promote religious freedom.”
USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan U.S. government advisory body, separate from the State Department, that monitors religious freedom abroad and makes policy recommendations to the President, Secretary of State, and Congress. In addition, USCIRF evaluates and provides comment “on the effectiveness of the State Department’s efforts to promote international religious freedom.”
The U.S. State Department, U.S. Congress and the European Parliament have all declared the atrocities against Christians, Yazidis, and other religious minorities in Iraq and Syria to be genocide by legal definition. This designation enables legal, monetary, and policy efforts to be used to assist these persecuted groups. Read more.
In December 2016, then President Obama signed the “Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act” to strengthen U.S. law and more prominently integrate this foundational human right, religious freedom, into U.S. foreign policy and national security strategies. The law …
Amends the 1998 law to require that the IRF Ambassador report directly to the Secretary of State–this is important because whom one reports to in the federal government can be key to getting one’s message heard and acted upon.
Establishes an "entities of particular concern" category—a companion to the "countries of particular concern" classification used for nearly 20 years by the State Department—for non-government actors, such as the Islamic State (IS) and the Nigerian terrorist organization, Boko Haram.
Institutes a "designated persons list" for individuals who violate religious freedom and authorizes the president to issue sanctions against those who participate in persecution.
Creates a list of overseas religious prisoners.
Mandates religious liberty training for all foreign service officers.
Establishes a minimum number of full-time staff members in the State Department's international religious freedom office.
The first-ever Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom was held in July of 2018. The State Department-sponsored event hosted 80 countries and numerous NGOs that fight for religious freedom. Several new programs and statements were announced:
The International Religious Freedom Fund, which “support[s] initiatives addressing barriers to freedom of religion or belief” & “provide[s] assistance to those facing discrimination on the basis of religion or belief for individual needs.”
Genocide Recovery and Persecution Response Program, “the State Department and the USAID will closely partner with local faith and community leaders to rapidly deliver aid to persecuted communities, beginning with Iraq.”
The Potomac Declaration and The Potomac Plan of Action: “These documents reassert the United States’ unwavering commitment to promoting and defending religious freedom. They recommend concrete ways the international community and governments can do more to protect religious freedom and vulnerable religious communities."
A LOOK AT THE PLIGHT OF CHRISTIANS GLOBALLY & IN SPECIFIC COUNTRIES
“215 million Christians experience high levels of persecution in the countries on the World Watch List. This represents 1 in 12 Christians worldwide.” Source: Open Doors USA
"100 years ago, approximately 15% of the population throughout the Middle East was Christian. Today, that number is less than 5% and decreasing." Source: Center for the Study of Global Christianity
According to the 2018 Open Doors annual report, 3,066 Christians were martyred during a 12 month period (November 1, 2016-October 31, 2017). This is more than double the number (1,207) from the 2017 Open Doors’ report. Source: Open Doors
The United Nation’s Commission of Inquiry categorizes North Korea as a country with no religious freedom. Worship of the Kim family is the only acceptable form. Torture, imprisonment, and execution are all forms of punishment for those who do otherwise. 300,000 Christians live amongst North Korea’s population of 25.4 million*. Sources: United Nations & *Open Doors
In Iraq, the homeland of Abraham and many other biblical persons and events, there were 1.5 million Christians in 2003; now, there are about 250,000. Many of whom are living in camps for displaced people. Source: Open Doors
Egypt: In ancient times, Christianity used to be prevalent in all aspects of Egyptian society. Now, Christians make up only an estimated 10-15% of the estimated 97 million people living there. Only 3.4% are evangelical Christian*. Sources: USCIRF & *Christian Aid Mission
Turkey: At the beginning of the 20th century, 20% of the Turkish population was Christian. Now, less than .2% of the population is Christian. Of the almost 80 million people living in Turkey, less than 150,000 Christians remain*. Sources: Reuters & *USCIRF
Syria: For two millennia, Christianity has been a part of Syria’s history. The country’s civil war, which began in 2011, and ISIS’s brutal persecution is threatening this reality. The Christian population is being pushed from their homeland. Over 750,000 Christians left between 2011 and 2015. In particular, Aleppo’s Christian community has suffered tremendously decreasing from 160,000 to 40,000. Sources: Knights of Columbus & IDC
The countries (Egypt & Turkey) SCI is focusing on are categorized as Tier 2 by USCIRF. Tier 2 countries are defined as “nations in which the violations engaged in or tolerated by the government are serious and characterized by at least one of the elements of the ‘systematic, ongoing, and egregious’ CPC standard.”
A country of particular concern [CPC] is “any country whose government engages in or tolerates particularly severe religious freedom violations that are systematic, ongoing, and egregious.” Source: USCIRF
* Countries with apostasy laws or policies similar to:
3. India, nine of India’s 29 states have apostasy (anti-conversion) laws
13. Saudi Arabia
17. United Arab Emirates