Post by: Katrina Sumner
In America, we believe that people have the freedom to select a faith of their own choosing or to embrace no faith at all. This liberty is acknowledged in the First Amendment of our Constitution which provides that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble…” Unfortunately, there are many countries around the world that lack these freedoms to the detriment of fundamental human rights.
This summer, I had the opportunity to do an internship with Jubilee Campaign, USA. The organization advocates for the release of prisoners of conscience in various nations. I learned so much about the importance of religious liberty. For example, I learned about a country whose constitution establishes that a particular religion is the religion of the nation and of its people. If a citizen changes from the religion dictated by the government, he or she can lose status as a citizen or even be imprisoned or killed under criminal law. In some countries, apostasy, changing or renouncing one’s faith, is considered a capital crime. In addition, one who verbalizes that he changed his religion because he does not believe its tenets has also committed blasphemy, which is punishable by death, as well.
In another country that operates under a policy of state atheism, a refusal to renounce one’s religion at the insistence of the government also brings religious persecution. While religion mandated by the state is violative of human rights, state-mandated atheism is equally so. Believers of various faiths are surveilled, arrested, imprisoned in detention centers, beaten, and forced to renounce their faith by government officials. Atheism is required to hold certain positions. In the houses of worship that have not been shut down, the government sometimes places surveillance cameras on pulpits, mandates what songs are song during the worship service, and has banned children under 18 years of age from attending religious services. Further, there are plans to alter the sacred texts of various religions, including the Bible, to make them reflect the core socialist positions of the government. What greater violation of religious liberty than for the government to literally rewrite religious texts altering the very tenets of those faiths. Jubilee Campaign is working for change and for the release of people imprisoned for their faith or for their lack of faith in many of these nations.
Protecting freedom of religion is essential in and of itself, but its protection provides support for other rights. When a person is killed for her religious beliefs, her right to life is violated. If she is imprisoned, her right to liberty is violated. If she is forbidden to speak about her faith, her freedom of speech is violated and so on. Government-sanctioned religious killings, destruction of houses of faith, and forced conversions through torture and rape are forms of religious persecution that are foreign to us in America. I pray it will always be so. I pray also that we will continue to pursue the protection of religious liberty for those who are being persecuted around the world on a daily basis.
My internship at Jubilee Campaign taught me that freedom of belief is essential and it must be protected. It is denied at the cost of human rights. Nations that embrace religious liberty should endeavor to keep it and to secure its protection for all of their people.
This post was written by a Center for Global Justice Intern. The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect those of Regent University, Regent Law School, or the Center for Global Justice.
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