The day before Memorial Day, my family and I enjoyed our Sunday morning at church — singing, like we always do, about Jesus and hearing, for the ten thousandth time, the good news that He died for our sins. During the service, I was again reminded how rare of a gift this is — to be able to worship whomever, however, and wherever we please, without the slightest bit of fear of persecution.
Why should I be born here, where I have such radical liberty, when others risk their lives every day to follow the God they serve? I’ll never know. Acts 17:26 tells us that God determines all of our dwelling places and the time periods in which we live. He’s graciously allowed me to live here, now, having all the freedom in the world to live and worship as I see fit.
Although being born in America is a gracious gift from God over which I had no control, that America is a blessed place in which to be born is not mere coincidence. Enjoying as inherent rights what others desire as luxuries is a result of centuries of sacrifice, toil, and steadfast effort in the narrow cause of liberty. Men and women have died for our right to go to church, to attend our mosques, to learn in our synagogues unafraid of punishment. Others around the world aren’t so lucky.
This week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo released the annual International Religious Freedom Report for 2017.
A similar 2017 report for the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (UCIRF) chronicles violations of religious freedom committed by governments, terrorist groups, and individuals across 200 countries. The UCIRF uses the colored areas below to designate the countries and territories in which religious liberty is routinely threatened:
Russia, for the first time, was included in the top tier of religious freedom abusers, labeled a “CPC,” or a “country of particular concern.” The UCIRF cites Russia’s policies as “ranging from administrative harassment to arbitrary imprisonment to extrajudicial killing, ... implemented in a fashion that is systematic, ongoing, and egregious. In mainland Russia in 2016, new laws effectively criminalized all private religious speech not sanctioned by the state, the Jehovah’s Witnesses stand on the verge of a nationwide ban, and innocent Muslims were tried on fabricated charges of terrorism and extremism.”
In Iran, the law allows the death sentence for "proselytizing and attempts by non-Muslims to convert Muslims, as well as for moharebeh (enmity against God) and sabb al-nabi (insulting the prophet).” People executed are mostly Christians, as well as other religious minorities.
Regarding China, the UCIRF report says, “During 2016, as China’s President Xi Jinping further consolidated power, conditions for freedom of religion or belief and related human rights continued to decline. Authorities target anyone considered a threat to the state, including religious believers, human rights lawyers, and other members of civil society. In 2016, the Chinese government ... circulated revised regulations governing religion, including new penalties for activities considered “illegal” and additional crackdowns on Christian house churches.”
Mexican authorities reportedly pressured followers of minority religions to convert to and/or practice the majority religion of the particular area. Furthermore, “[r]eligious minorities who refused were forcibly displaced, arbitrarily detained, had their properties destroyed, and/or had their utilities cut off. Mexican state and federal authorities frequently failed to intervene in these cases, creating a climate of impunity.”
In North Korea, whose tyrannical leader some have compared to Donald Trump, no religious activity outside state-controlled houses of worship is allowed. No religious talk is allowed. No contact with religious people is allowed. Christianity, as the perceived faith of the West, is hated most. There are currently at least 80,000 to 120,000 North Koreans held in prison camps for practicing their faith — all facing either a life sentence of hard labor or execution. Reports conclude that tens of thousands of these are Christians.
These are only a few instances in the extensive and pervasive pattern of worldwide religious persecution. Christians, Jews, Muslims, and people of all faiths are routinely relegated to the margins of society, imprisoned, tortured, and executed for outwardly expressing their inner convictions.
America is not only set apart from countries explicitly discriminating against religious minorities, we stand out from all other nations as the most free, most successful nation in existence. America is the only place on Earth whose government is designed specifically to protect our inherent rights rather than manage or subdue them. Because of this, we have a higher number of immigrants than any other country; thousands of people risk their lives on a daily basis for a chance to taste the radical freedom we enjoy.
Men and women gave it all so we could have it all: so that we could worship, speak, write, protest, and petition as we please, without fear of incarceration or death. That is a rare gift — one we should never take for granted.
Editor's note: A previous version of this article incorrectly indicated that Secretary Pompeo released the report from the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. The report he unveiled was the International Religious Freedom Report for 2017. The error has been corrected.