Religious Freedom Is Declining
Freedom of religion is on the decline across the world. A report released on Wednesday by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom noted that “the state of affairs for international religious freedom is worsening in both the depth and breadth of violations.”
This report calls on the U.S. State Department to again designate 10 countries as “countries of particular concern” based on high level of religious persecution: Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan.
The report also calls on the State Department to designate six new countries to the Tier 1 list: Central African Republic, Nigeria, Pakistan, Russia, Syria and Vietnam.
Russia was added to the Tier 1 list for the first time this year. Its inclusion was due to new Russian laws effectively criminalizing private religious speech not sanctioned by the state, a nationwide ban on the Jehovah’s Witness denomination, and Russian attempts to impose repressive religious policies on areas of Ukraine “by means of military invasion and occupation.”
A Pew Research Center study published on April 11 found that 23 of 198 countries assessed had “very high” levels of government restrictions on religious practices in 2015. That compares to only 16 countries ranked as having “very high” government restrictions on religious freedom the previous year. The Middle East, North Africa and Asia had worse restrictions on religious freedom than the Western world, yet 31 of 45 European nations increased government restrictions of freedom of worship between 2014 and 2015. Even the United States was ranked as having more government restrictions on freedom of religion in 2015 than in 2007. (Note: The Pew Research Center’s Government Restrictions Index is based on a 20-question survey used to gauge the extent to which governments at any level—national, provincial or local—try to control religious groups).
Statistics like this highlight just what a rare commodity religious freedom is in this world. For most of human history, people have been forced to conform to the national religion of their country or live in fear of persecution. The fact that most people living in the United States and Britain have enjoyed religious freedom for the last three centuries has been a historical aberration. Yet Jesus Christ prophesied that in the time just before His return to Earth, His followers would be persecuted for their beliefs.
When His disciples asked Him for a sign of His Second Coming and the end of the world, Jesus answered: “Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. … Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake” (Matthew 24:4-5, 9).
When Christ said His followers would be “hated of all nations,” He certainly included America among them. This means the First Amendment protection Americans have enjoyed for over two centuries will erode to the point where true believers can once again be persecuted for their beliefs.
The Prophet Amos wrote of a time when religious persecution culminates in a “famine of the word”—a time when God’s truth will no longer be readily available—caused by deliberate suppression of that message (Amos 8:11-12). Based on these prophecies, we can know that the current assault on religious freedom will continue and intensify—in America, Britain and every other nation.
Read our booklet The Lion Has Roared for a clearer understanding of this subject.