Category : Religious Freedom / Persecution

(CT) Free at Last: Andrew Brunson Released by Turkey After Two Years

American pastor Andrew Brunson has been released after being detained for two years in Turkey.

At a hearing this morning, a Turkish court freed him from judicial control, which lifts his house arrest and travel ban.

Despite a guilty verdict sentencing him to 3 years, 1 month, and 15 days in prison, Brunson may return home to the United States as soon as today due to good behavior and time already served.

NBC News broke the news yesterday of the expected deal between Turkey and the United States over Brunson, a North Carolina pastor who had worked in Izmir for decades and was arrested on terrorism and espionage charges in the aftermath of a failed coup in 2016.

US officials and religious freedom advocates considered the charges against Brunson to be erroneous, and multiple witnesses retracted their testimonies against him during today’s hearing.

Trump administration officials were optimistic but cautious that Turkey would follow through on the deal, reported The Washington Post. The deal would likely lift recent US sanctions in exchange for Brunson’s release by being sentenced today to time already served.

Officials expect Brunson to “be handed back his passport and put on a plane to the US,” reported The Wall Street Journal….

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Posted in Ethics / Moral Theology, Evangelicals, Foreign Relations, Law & Legal Issues, Missions, Religion & Culture, Religious Freedom / Persecution, Turkey

(1st Things) Hadley Arkes–Recasting Religious Freedom

The truth that dare not speak its name is that even many friends of religious freedom have been content to argue for that freedom on terms that accept this reduction of religion to “beliefs” untested by reason. They do so because they don’t wish to put themselves in the position of speaking the uncomfortable truth: that not everything that calls itself religion in this country may be regarded as a legitimate religion. And so we try to vindicate a “ministerial exception” to the laws on employment. We insist that churches must be free to determine who counts as a minister according to their own criteria and teaching. But does that freedom from the intrusion of the government apply as well to the ministers appointed under the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or even worse, does it apply to Satanists claiming the standing of a religion?

We cannot detach ourselves from judging Satanism, or radical evil, and in the same measure we cannot detach ourselves from the task of discriminating between religions that are more or less plausible, more or less legitimate, based on the substance of what they teach. No argument that seeks to explain a just regime of religious freedom—and a sweeping protection for anything that calls itself religion—could possibly offer a coherent moral account when it seeks to incorporate in its understanding a posture of indifference to radical evil. The canons of reason will ever be woven into the laws on religion—even in judging what is plausible or implausible in what is reported to us about the word of God.

Aristotle taught us that the mark of the polis, the political order, was the presence of law, and law springs distinctly from the nature of that creature who can give and understand reasons concerning matters of right and wrong. Aristotle expressed the classic understanding of the moral ground of the law in that way, and I would suggest that the freedom of religion will find firmer ground by insisting again on that connection between moral reasoning and the law—between the reasons that support our religious convictions and the religious freedom we would protect through the law. The beginning of the argument would be to remind people of that connection between the very logic of a moral judgment and the logic of law. In the strictest sense, a “moral” judgment moves beyond statements of merely personal taste or private belief; it speaks to the things that are right or wrong, just or unjust, generally or universally—for others as well as ourselves.

In a corresponding way, the law moves by overriding claims of mere private choice, personal freedom, subjective belief. It imposes a rule of justice that claims to hold for everyone who comes within its reach.

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Ethics / Moral Theology, Law & Legal Issues, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, Religious Freedom / Persecution

(CT) Christian Baker Masterpiece Cakeshop Wins at Supreme Court

The high court ruled that state penalties levied against Jack Phillips, the Colorado business owner at the center of Masterpiece Cakeshop Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, violated his First Amendment rights to free exercise of religion since the regulations were not applied neutrally.

While the court clearly came down in Phillips’s favor, Anthony Kennedy acknowledged in the court’s opinion that similar cases (like those that have come up involving photographers and florists, as well as pizza shops and a range of other businesses) may be adjudicated differently.

As SCOTUSblog wrote in summary, the decision still allows for the government to bar discrimination against same-sex couples, “so long as the law is applied neutrally and without hostility to religion. But whether the very same law could sometimes violate free speech rights is still totally open.”

Today’s decision still has religious freedom advocates celebrating.

“No one should be forced to violate their faith in order to earn a living, and Jack, who I’ve met and consider a friend, just wants to be free to live out his faith in his chosen profession,” stated Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs, who was “delighted” at the ruling and its implications for religious freedom.

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, Law & Legal Issues, Religion & Culture, Religious Freedom / Persecution, Supreme Court

(BP) Albert Mohler tells NRB of a ‘new regime of invented rights’

Mohler quoted a 2016 official report from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in which the chairman, Martin R. Castro, wrote, “The phrases ‘religious liberty’ and ‘religious freedom’ will stand for nothing except hypocrisy so long as they remain code words for discrimination, intolerance, racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, Christian supremacy or any form of intolerance.”

The commission’s report, Mohler pointed out, placed both religious liberty and religious freedom in scare quotes as if they are “linguistic constructions without any objective reality.”

“We are now witnessing a great and inevitable collision between religious liberty and newly declared and invented sexual liberties,” he said, listing various incidents illustrating how the collision is now taking place.

Mohler encouraged Christian leaders to hold on to the truths expressed in the Declaration of Independence and to defend these truths “that should be, but often are not, recognized as self-evident.”

And to the generation of young people who are committed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ but assume that the defense of religious liberty is political, Mohler said they also need to be committed to the free propagation and voicing of the Gospel, without which sinners will not hear the Gospel.

“We’re in a fight that’s worth fighting,” Mohler said. “And we understand that as we contend for the freedom of religion, and the freedom of speech, and the freedom of press, again, we’re doing this not just for ourselves and for our children, not just for our churches, but for the world.

“Let’s pray that God will give us wisdom to hold these truths in perilous times,” Mohler concluded.

Posted in Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Media, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, Religious Freedom / Persecution

(Christian Today) It is as if prayer is a crime: Egypt’s Christians appeal for help after church closures

Following the closure of a number of churches in recent weeks, Coptic Christians in the south of Egypt have renewed calls on local authorities for an end to discrimination.

Two churches in two separate villages in the southern province of Minya have been shut down by the authorities, a statement by the Minya diocese said.

It said worshippers were harassed at both churches and pelted with rocks at one of them.

‘We have kept quiet for two weeks after the closure of one of the churches, but due to our silence the situation has worsened … it is as if prayer is a crime the Copts must be punished for,’ said the statement, which was released on Saturday.

A third church was closed following rumors of a pending attack, but the diocese said no attack has taken place since and the church remains closed.

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Posted in Coptic Church, Egypt, Middle East, Religion & Culture, Religious Freedom / Persecution, Violence

[Premier] Three Christian converts appeal Holy Communion lashes

Three Christian converts each facing 80 lashes for drinking alcohol during Holy Communion are due before an Iranian court to challenge their sentences.

They were arrested on 13th May 2016 and charged with “acting against national security”, alongside Youcef Nadarkhani, a pastor once sentenced to death for apostasy.

Miles Windsor from Middle East Concern, an organisation which defends the religious freedoms of Christians, told Premier Christian Radio: “Do be praying that these men would be acquitted, that they will be freed.

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Posted in * Religion News & Commentary, Religious Freedom / Persecution

(CC) Philip Jenkins–When does faith become fraudulent?

Should truth in adver­tising laws apply to religious claims? Should governments be in the business of defining authentic miracles? Which pastors are genuine, and which are fakes?

However fanciful such questions might seem, all these issues are very much alive in contemporary Africa. The Christian upsurge of the past half century has been marked by widespread claims of healing and miracles, often in the context of charismatic revivals and crusades. As in any such great awakening since apostolic times, a number of wild and bizarre claims have been made, and there is some evidence of active fraud. Every society has its own versions of Elmer Gan­try, people who use religious deception as a money-making tool. The question then arises of who is meant to regulate or suppress such outbreaks.

One early attempt oc­curred in Nigeria in 2004, when the National Broad­casting Commission tried to prohibit anyone from showing “unverifiable” miracle healings on television.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, * Religion News & Commentary, Africa, Ethics / Moral Theology, Globalization, Law & Legal Issues, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, Religious Freedom / Persecution, Theology

[Christian Times] China shuts 'unofficial' Christian churches ahead of G20 summit

Chinese authorities are banning “illegal” and “unofficial” churches in preparation for the G20 summit, which will be held in Hangzhou.

Many heads of state will arrive in the city for a two-day meeting in September. Authorities say closing the churches in Hangzhou was meant for safety purposes.
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One unofficial Protestant church that has existed for 40 years in the city’s Jianghan district and has around 2,000 members received a warning about the “illegal gatherings” they were apparently holding. The religious affairs bureau instructed it to “reform its illegal gathering activities,” according to Radio Free Asia.

Along with the notice came officials who took down a large cross on a church wall.

The church, which has since then been prohibited from meeting together, sought counsel from lawyer Li Guisheng.

Li said authorities have attempted to convince the church to become part of the Three-Self church, but they continually refused. Their refusal could be the reason behind the ban on church meetings, Li said.

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Posted in * Religion News & Commentary, Religious Freedom / Persecution

[CT] Canon Andrew White suspended in dispute over alleged payments to rescue ISIS sex slaves

By Ruth Gledhill
The Vicar of Baghdad was suspended by the charity he founded amid an investigation into alleged payments used to rescue Islamic State sex slaves, according to The Times.

Canon Andrew White, 52, who was ordered to leave Iraq at the end of 2014 by the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby over fears for his safety, has continued working in the Middle East and worldwide to help Christians, Yazidis and other minorities fleeing ISIS.

He was suspended after the Charity Commission launched an investigation into the Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East, the charity he set up in 2010 when he was Vicar of St George’s Church, Baghdad.

Last October Canon White posted a notice on Facebook where he said: “Want to know what we are doing to help the Yazidi sex slaves?”

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Posted in * Religion News & Commentary, Religious Freedom / Persecution

Sudan: Massacre in Heiban as Nuba ”˜genocide’ enters its sixth year

By Elizabeth Kendal at Lapidomedia
At 6 pm on 1 May, two Sudanese Air Force MiG fighter jets attacked residential areas within Heiban town in the Nuba Mountains of South Kordofan, killing six children, three from one family.

The dead children were named as: Nidal Abdolrahman Ibrahim (12), Ibrahim Abdolrahman Ibrahim (10), Jihan Abdolrahman Ibrahim (5), Hafez Mahmud (10) Kuku Dawli (4), and Yusif Yagoub (4).

Despite an almost complete news blackout, the ”˜Heiban Massacre’ is not an isolated incident.

The Government of Sudan’s genocidal jihad against the non-Arab and mostly non-Muslim peoples of Sudan’s ”˜New South’ ”“ Abyei, South Kordofan and Blue Nile ”“ continues a campaign that has just entered its sixth year.

For the Christians of the Nuba Mountains, it is the second ‘genocide’ in a generation.

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Posted in * Religion News & Commentary, Religious Freedom / Persecution

[NYT] Decapitated Churches in China’s Christian Heartland

..people familiar with the government’s deliberations say the removal of crosses here has set the stage for a new, nationwide effort to more strictly regulate spiritual life in China, reflecting the tighter control of society favored by President Xi Jinping.

In a major speech on religious policy last month, Mr. Xi urged the ruling Communist Party to “resolutely guard against overseas infiltrations via religious means,” and he warned that religions in China must “Sinicize,” or become Chinese. The instructions reflect the government’s longstanding fear that Christianity could undermine the party’s authority. Many human rights lawyers in China are Christians, and many dissidents have said they are influenced by the idea that rights are God-given.

In recent decades, the party had tolerated a religious renaissance in China, allowing most Chinese to worship as they chose and even encouraging the construction of churches, mosques and temples, despite regular crackdowns on unregistered congregations and banned spiritual groups such as Falun Gong.

Hundreds of millions of people have embraced the nation’s major faiths: Buddhism, Taoism, Islam and Christianity. There are now about 60 million Christians in China. Many attend churches registered with the government, but at least half worship in unregistered churches, often with local authorities looking the other way.

But Mr. Xi’s decision to convene a “religious affairs work conference” last month ”” the first such leadership meeting in 15 years ”” suggested that he was unhappy with some of these policies. People familiar with the party’s discussions say it intends to apply some lessons from the campaign in Zhejiang to rein in religious groups across the country.

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Posted in * Religion News & Commentary, Religious Freedom / Persecution

[LM] Official: Pakistan’s blasphemy law is ”˜manmade’ – and promotes ”˜religious vigilantism'

It is not known what prompted the chairman of the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) publicly to announce a U-turn in the blasphemy law.

Maulana Mohammad Khan Sherani, announced in January that if formally requested by the government, the CII would be prepared to review the controversial law.
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The recent judgment of the three-member bench of the Supreme Court of Pakistan in the case of Mumtaz Qadri has had a salutary effect. Mumtaz Hussain Qadri was an official bodyguard of the Governor of the Punjab, Salman Taseer, when he assassinated him in 2011, deeming him a blasphemer for criticizing the blasphemy law and expressing support for Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of five who had been sentenced to death in a blasphemy case.

The sentence against Qadri was upheld by the High Court. The bold observations made in this judgment include that the blasphemy law was a manmade law and any criticism or comment about its reform could not be termed as a blasphemous act. It went on that no one could be allowed to take the law into their own hands ”˜as a door would open for religious vigilantism that would deal a mortal blow to the rule of law in the country in which divergent religious interpretations abound, and tolerance stood depleted to an alarming level’.

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Posted in * Religion News & Commentary, Religious Freedom / Persecution

[WWM] The impact of Christians leaving the Middle East

..Before 2011, Syrian Christians comprised around 8-10% of a 22 million population, notes the report, though 40-50% of those Christians have since left. Meanwhile, there were approximately 1.5 million Christians in Iraq before 2003, but estimates now range from 200,000 to 500,000.

“Approximately 30-35 million Christians worldwide are members of Middle Eastern church families, but only 15 million of these reside in the Middle East,” it adds. “While there is a high level of emigration, there are also many Christians committed to staying in their countries.”

Why are they leaving?

International Christian organisations have been trying to “source the support needed to stem a growing sense of hopelessness”, it says, but “increased poverty is one of many factors encouraging emigration”.

Increased marginalisation is another factor. “In many countries Christians face increasing marginalisation, and perhaps nowhere is this strain felt as strongly as in Syria and Iraq,” the report states. “Whoever has the ability to leave is leaving. The Christians have a greater sense of insecurity because they cannot integrate into the changing scenery. Other community members could integrate into the new social scene, but not the Christians.

Read it all and the report, ‘Hope for the Middle East’, compiled by Open Doors, Middle East Concern, Served and the University of East London is here

Posted in * Religion News & Commentary, Religious Freedom / Persecution

[WWM] Khartoum keeps 5 Christian leaders under daily surveillance

Sudanese authorities have, apparently against their own law, continued to keep two church leaders incommunicado since mid-December, with no official charges yet filed against them; recently Sudan has also increased the number of church leaders who must report every day to its security services.

Telahoon Nogosi Kassa Rata, a leader of Khartoum North (Bahri) Evangelical Church, and Rev. Hassan Abduraheem Kodi Taour of the Sudan Church of Christ (SCC) continue to be detained, even though Sudanese law says that 45 days after arrest a detained individual should either be presented before court or released. It is now 120 days since Rata’s arrest on 14 December, and 115 days since Taour’s arrest.

Initially Rata’s detention was suggested to be “on religious charges”, but sources close to the case have hinted the Christian activist is now being investigated for espionage, a charge Sudan has eventually resorted to before, after prolonged detentions of Christians.

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Posted in * Religion News & Commentary, Religious Freedom / Persecution

[BBC] Why many Christians in China have turned to underground churches

.. today, according to some estimates, there are more Christians in China than Communist Party members. Up to 100 million will be celebrating across China this Easter weekend.

But what it failed to destroy, the Party still wants to control. So, an officially atheist government effectively runs its own churches and controls the appointment of its own priests.

Like Pastor Wu Weiqing from Beijing’s Haidian Church.

“We have to remember first of all we are a citizen of this country,” he says. “And we are a citizen of the Kingdom of God. That comes second.”

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Posted in * Religion News & Commentary, Religious Freedom / Persecution