Religious Freedom in the Middle East, North Africa, and the United States of America
By Faith and Freedom Staff
These are perilous times in many respects. Social unrest, political upheaval, and a worldwide pandemic cast daily shadows over our lives. As Christians, we find our encouragement in scripture which tells us “And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19, NIV).
But what about when our very faith is challenged by government officials and others who seek to infringe upon our ability to exercise our religious freedom?
Unfortunately, this is the situation in which we find ourselves today.
People of faith tend to share a deep appreciation for religious freedom. It’s quickly becoming apparent, however, that some powerful non-believers are far less enthusiastic about this important freedom. This truth was recently voiced by Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, who recently noted the COVID-19 pandemic has led to widespread curbing of individual and religious liberties.
Calling such restrictions, “previously unimaginable,” Alito described their severity and duration as “unprecedented.” This is not mere happenstance. Alito points out the fact that “in certain quarters, religious liberty is fast becoming a disfavored right.”
More broadly, a recent Pew survey cites the decline in religious freedom as occurring across the globe. The Pew report announced that governmental restrictions on religious practices set records in recent years. Christians suffered most, according to the data, which can be found here.
The Pew Government Restrictions Index analyzes government policy and laws that ban a specific religion, or do things such as prohibit conversion, place limits on preaching, or give preferential treatment to certain religions. It may come as no surprise that such practices were most prevalent in the Middle East and North Africa, where 90% of the nations rank “high” or “very high” in restrictions. China, nevertheless, remains the worst offender.
We must not underestimate the devastating consequences of COVID-19, but it’s clear that the virus, which will subside with widespread distribution of vaccines that have already been approved, is not the biggest long term threat to our democracy.
Rather, the loss of our religious freedom—a bedrock of our democracy—could lead to a wider challenge to the Republic. The religious bigotry exhibited at the state and local levels across the United States is nothing short of astonishing. Churches, pastors, and congregations have complied with government guidelines in the face of unwarranted attacks—while bars, casinos and even strip clubs have been permitted to operate with far more freedom.
In the United States, public policy on the matter of religious freedom increasingly mirrors Pew Report findings on the Middle East, North Africa, and China. God will ultimately prevail over these unfortunate circumstances and we must therefore react as Jesus called us to: “Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.” (Isiah 35:3-4, ESV)
And yet, for a nation that once served as a beacon of religious freedom, this is indeed a sad state of affairs.