By Peter Pinedo
In testimony to the House Subcommittee on National Security, the Border, and Foreign Affairs on Wednesday, experts said that religious persecution across the world poses a serious threat to American citizens and U.S. national security.
The hearing, which was chaired by Wisconsin Republican Rep. Glenn Grothman, was held just days before the 25th anniversary of the passage of the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) that elevated religious freedom to a U.S. foreign policy goal.
David Curry, president of Global Christian Relief, testified that “faith really is under fire” and that Christians are especially impacted.
According to Curry, there are approximately 360 million Christians globally “experiencing high levels of persecution or discrimination just for their belief.”
With such large swaths of the world’s population experiencing religious persecution, Curry said that “when religious freedom is not protected, extremism and authoritarianism flourish” and that “the advancement of religious freedom is also important to U.S. national security interests.”
“The more the U.S. can do to advocate and advance this critical freedom,” he said, “the more we will deter the very groups who wish to do us harm.”
Because of these dangers, Curry and the other experts who testified called on Congress and the Biden administration to take concrete actions to address religious persecutions currently ongoing in countries ranging from Nigeria to Afghanistan and beyond.
The persecution of Christians in Nigeria is among the most extreme in the world, according to testimony given at the hearing.
The experts mentioned groups such as the Islamic State West Africa Province and Boko Haram who have been responsible for rampant Christian persecution in Nigeria for years. The groups have carried out massacres of entire towns and villages and have murdered, raped, tortured, and kidnapped Christians simply for being followers of Christ.
Curry said that terror groups “driven by extremist ideology” have killed 12,793 Christians in Nigeria since 2019.
“We know that all these victims are explicitly targeted for being Christians,” he said. “Both because the killers and kidnappers often expressly say so and because Christians are suffering killings and abductions that are vastly disproportionate to other faiths in the region.”
Curry recommended that members of the committee sponsor a resolution to return Nigeria to the State Department’s “Countries of Particular Concern” (CPC) blacklist.
“The CPC designation,” Curry said, “is reserved for the worst violators of religious freedom, and despite the failure of Nigeria’s government to prevent the targeted killing and abduction of thousands of Nigerians on the basis of faith, the State Department removed this designation in 2021, and I believe this is unacceptable.”
Dr. Eric Patterson, president of the Religious Freedom Institute (RFI), who also testified, said that the U.S. should also impose serious sanctions against the country’s government.
According to Patterson, the persecution in Nigeria has the potential to send the country into a civil war, which he said would have disastrous consequences for the country and dangerous implications for global security.
“If Nigeria descends into chaos, civil war,” explained Patterson, “…the results would be catastrophic for its own people, for its region, for global energy markets, and for the U.S. and our allies.”
Biden administration ‘harming’ religious freedom
Beyond Nigeria, Patterson said that the Biden administration’s “lack of a consistent commitment to advancing religious freedom stalls real progress.”
Going further, Patterson said that the administration is “harming” religious freedom efforts and by extension U.S. national security interests by its “relentless” and “aggressive export” of LGBTQ+ ideology and abortion to “deeply religious” African nations.
Patterson pointed to Vice President Kamala Harris’ recent African tour in which, he said, she “criticized African societies for their deeply held, widely agreed-upon religious convictions.”
Patterson called the administration’s promotion of these issues on African societies a form of “cultural imperialism.”
“My organization and others routinely hear from citizens from these countries: ‘Why is the U.S. pushing its domestic policies on us, are we going to lose PEPFAR [HIV/Aids relief program] and other vital support if we hold to our convictions?’” he said.
“So,” Patterson said, “on the one hand, the administration has done little in terms of concrete effective action such as sanctions to push back on ethno-religious violence and the persecution of faith communities from Nigeria to Afghanistan, and at the same time they bully our friends in highly religious societies like Kenya, Zambia, and Ghana.”
After the hearing, Patterson told CNA that countries “where there are the highest levels of religious persecution” are often those most antagonistic to the U.S. and American values.
“They have a different value structure that they want to impose in other places around the world that is anti-democratic and anti-individual liberty,” he explained.
U.S. bishops mark 25th anniversary of IRFA
To mark the 25th anniversary of IRFA’s passage, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and Bishop David Malloy of Rockford, Illinois, said in a Wednesday statement, referring to the second Vatican Council’s Declaration on Religious Freedom Dignitatis Humanae, that “governments must protect the rights and safeguard the religious freedom of all its citizens” so that “no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, within due limits.”
According to Dolan and Malloy, restrictions on religious liberty have been steadily increasing across the world.
“Sadly, 80% of the world’s inhabitants live in countries where there are high levels of governmental or societal restrictions on religion,” they said.
“As we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the International Religious Freedom Act,” the bishops said, “let us join with our Holy Father in his prayer ‘that freedom of conscience and freedom of religion will everywhere be recognized and respected; these are fundamental rights because they make us free to contemplate the heaven for which we were created.’”