Religious liberty, in simplified terms, is the right of any person to believe in and practice the religion of his or her choice. It is a right that the American Constitution is meant to protect and is one of the basic rights of being human. However, in its annual report, the United States Commission of International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) found that religious liberty conditions worldwide continued to decline in 2015.
Each year the USCIRF recommends that the State Department designate certain places as “countries of particular concern” or CPCs. This designation is given to the countries that are the world’s worst violators of religious liberty or “any country whose government engages in or tolerates particularly severe violations of religious freedom that are systematic, ongoing and egregious.” The committee then recommends actions or policies that aim to work for greater religious freedom in those areas.
This year’s report recommends adding eight countries to the top tier of CPCs, making a total of 17. This list includes the following:
- Currently on CPC list: Myanmar (Burma), China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan
- Proposed additions to the list: Central African Republic, Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Syria, Tajikistan, Vietnam
The USCIRF’s report includes a compelling call for action to both the U.S. State Department and the average world citizen:
For humanitarian reasons alone, the world dare not remain silent in the face of the long trail of abuses committed in these and other countries.
All nations should care about abuses beyond their borders not only for humanitarian reasons but because what goes on in other nations rarely remains there. Standing for the persecuted against the forces of violent religious extremism is not just a moral imperative; it is a practical necessity for any country seeking to protect its security and that of its citizens.
And so we must stand tall for religious freedom as an antidote to religious extremism, an aid to security, and a universal right of humanity.
Religious liberty has been in the spotlight in recent months even in America as some politicians and American citizens are in favor of restricting the entry of refugees based on their religion, particularly Muslim refugees. As Christians who value religious liberty, how are we supposed to respond to this?
In a recent blog post, the President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission critiqued Donald Trump’s proposed ban on Muslims by making an appeal to the gospel. Moore reminded Evangelical Christians that the gospel compels us to speak and act on behalf of religious freedom for all people:
It is not in spite of our gospel conviction, but precisely because of it, that we should stand for religious liberty for everyone…Those of us who are Christians ought to stand up for religious liberty not just when our rights are violated but on behalf of others too. [Read Moore’s blog post]
Likewise, in a sermon titled, “The Gospel and Religious Liberty,” David Platt spoke to this issue:
We honor everyone. Why? Because as men and women made in the image of God, all people have the capacity and the opportunity to choose to obey God or disobey God. Therefore, based on this biblical, theological foundation—gospel foundation— therefore, it would not be right for you or me or any government to force faith upon people when God Himself does not force faith upon people.
So we work for religious liberty, because we believe it’s important. It’s how we honor people…And we do this for all, so we don’t just work for religious liberty for Christians … We work for Muslims and Hindus and Buddhists and atheists and everybody else to have religious liberty.
The gospel compels us to work for religious liberty not just for Christians. And for that reason, I gladly stand for religious liberty alongside people who don’t believe what I believe.
Because of the gospel we believe in, we should work for religious liberty for all people, whether in America or other parts of the world.
If you need some tips on how to stand up for religious liberty, read our recent blog post “3 Ways to Stand Up for Religious Liberty.”
As you learn more about religious liberty around the world, pray about ways you can be a voice for those who face religious persecution and encourage others to join you.
Photography by Alex Schwab