The Christmas season reminds us that religious freedom is alive and well in the USA – especially when compared to the restrictions on religion in the rest of the world. It’s easy to get discouraged hearing almost daily reports of the prospect of same-sex “marriage” and increasing attacks on churches in America. But these threats pale in comparison to the oppression many churches experience in other countries.
The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life published a study on August 9, 2011, showing that numerous countries around the world place onerous restrictions on religious freedom – ostensibly to “protect” it. The study found: “As of mid-2009, 59 countries (30%) had a law, rule or policy at some level of government forbidding blasphemy (remarks or writings considered to be contemptuous of God), apostasy (abandoning one’s faith) or defamation (disparagement or criticism) of particular religions or religion in general. Penalties for violating these laws, ranging from fines to imprisonment to death, were enforced in 44 of the 59.” These laws prohibiting blasphemy, apostasy, or the defamation of religion were directly tied to an overall decrease in religious freedom.
For instance, a 13-year-old Pakistani girl reportedly made the mistake of writing something in her school work that was deemed “blasphemous.” In Pakistan, criticism of Islam is considered defamation and is punishable by death. Authorities weren’t so harsh in this instance, but did expel the girl from school and forced her mother to change jobs. In Egypt, a court is reported to have sentenced a man to three years in jail and hard labor because he “intentionally insulted the dignity of the Islamic religion and attacked it with insults and ridicule on Facebook.” And in the United Kingdom, a Member of the Scottish Parliament asked Strathlyde Police to investigate the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Glasgow because he defended the institution of marriage in a church service.
We would be shocked if anything resembling this religious oppression were to occur here in the United States – and rightfully so. In 1940, our Supreme Court held in Cantwell v. Connecticut that pointing out the errors of the religious beliefs of another is exactly what the Free Speech Clause was designed to protect. And three years later, the court famously affirmed that the government has no power to determine which religious beliefs are acceptable and which are not, stating: “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.” West Virginia State Bd. of Educ. v. Barnette. We at the ADF Church Project are doing our level best to make sure these important legal precedents are not eroded. If you hear of any situation where church freedom is being restricted, please contact us at speakupmovement.org or 1-800-TELL-ADF.
No, the U.S. does not have a perfect record on religious freedom, but we do score higher than most, if not all, other countries. We should thank God every day for our freedom to worship, especially during this holiday season. And I’m going to commit to praying for our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world that fear for their lives every time they utter the name of Christ in public.