It is interesting to surf the web and look at the constitutions, laws and international treaties which establish the legal environment of countries around the world. People who read the news that an American citizen was arrested in some country because he was a Christian do not often realize what really happened. They believe that these countries have a law buried in their legal code which can be summarized as, “Get rid of the Christians.” Americans tend to believe that the idea of state persecution is antiquated and could not be real in this century. It is a misconception to believe that persecution is energized by laws specifically ordering persecution. While numerous nations do have state religions, persecution can be equally severe in a nation with no religion at all.
Jesus predicted the downward spiral persecution would take:
“Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Luke 6:22
The four steps on the path to persecution are
3) injustice, and
Jesus said that these things would happen “on account of the Son of Man.”
In the US currently, the major threats to Christians and Christianity come from secularism. There are actually a number of countries where secularism is the source of the persecution. In the US the Freedom from Religion Foundation is one of the very active agents of secular restriction of Christianity. The cultural pressure to restrict Christians is energized by growing numbers of citizens who claim no religious connections and disavow any existence outside time and space. A pseudo-scientific agenda insists that “science has proved” things that science has never proved and insists on suppressing Christian thought, Christian practices, and even symbols of Christianity. This action in the culture, sometimes achieved by torturing logic in lawsuits alleging “establishment” infractions, is animated not only by outright atheists, but also by people who claim to be Christians. Such Christians support the notion that religion is a private matter that must not be brought into public forums in any form. Secularists and some progressive Christians claim that religious liberty is a thin disguise for religious privilege, while other progressive Christians completely deny the principles for which orthodox Christians are willing to die. In the US it is sometimes hard for orthodox Christians to know who their friends are.
In nations where secular thinking governs both the culture and the government to a greater degree than in the US today, it is possible to see what will come. If the pressure is not reduced by some means, the US will develop means of restricting and suppressing Christian faith just as other secular nations have done. In nations whose governments call themselves “secular” the constitution usually permits people to choose and belong to religions of their free choice, but there is no freedom that corresponds to the concept of “free exercise” that is included the First Amendment to the US Constitution. The US principle of “free exercise” is at the root of the deepest disputes with secularism. Below is a list of a few countries that currently feature prominently in any list of countries that persecute Christians. Since every country felt it necessary to create laws to restrain the influence of churches outside their worship spaces, and more laws to restrict the existence of worship spaces, it seems clear that these countries regard religion with all the enthusiasm hikers have for poison ivy.
- Uzbekistan – the constitution guarantees separation of church and state, but the state enacts laws that define what a church is, and churches are required to document compliance with that definition. This process corresponds roughly to the US requirement that organizations requesting tax-exempt status must prove compliance with the law in a 501 c 3 application.
In Uzbekistan, police showed up at the home of a Christian woman and demanded to search her home. They confiscated literature, her computer and her passport. She is accused of possessing religious literature that is not on the approved list. Until recently, it would have been unthinkable that the US government intruded into the content of religious literature or private religious observance. However, it is now documented that the IRS asked some groups applying for 501 c 4 status to document the content of their prayers.
- Tajikistan – the constitution states that the government is secular. The state enacts laws that define churches and specify restricted behaviors for the ostensible purpose of assuring that no religion achieves control of the state.
Tajikistan requires that education be completely secular. Children are forbidden to receive religious education before age 18. Both parents must approve if a child attends a worship service such as a funeral or wedding. The concept of state control of all education is similarly embodied in the German law that forbids even home schools to teach any curriculum counter to that of the state. The current demand by the federal government for all schools to teach federal Common Core curriculum is a step down that path. The recent refusal of the US Department of Justice to certify refugee status for a family that fled Germany over German law that forbids home schools to teach anything different than the government is an event with disturbing portent for American Christians who homeschool their children for the precise reason that they do not want their children to be taught what is taught in public schools.
In Tajikistan, the government confiscated two church buildings on the grounds that the buildings were not registered for religious meetings. In Marathon, Florida, when the city council invited local pastors to pray before council meetings, there was considerable public outcry at the notion of religious observance in a non-religious meeting place.
- Turkmenistan – the constitution states that the government is secular. It makes laws that define churches and the laws list approved religious literature.
In Turkmenistan, a man was severely beaten for possessing an e-book version of the Bible, because it was not the version registered with the government for Christians to use.
- Kazakhstan – The constitution states that Kazakhstan is a secular state, and the state makes laws to define churches, to register religious organizations and worship spaces, and to specify approved religious literature. It is illegal to entice or compel anyone to change his religion, although the constitution states that people may choose and change their religion at will.
In Kazakhstan a Christian man was dismissed from his job for mentioning his faith to fellow workers.
Each of these countries would tell anyone who asked that they have constitutional protection of religious liberty. Yet each of these countries feels the need to create laws to define and restrict all religious speech and activity, all under the guise of protecting religious liberty. These countries and others that have laws about registering religions and worship space and religious literature all have complex and lethargic bureaucracies that add another layer of restriction to religion, because some applications simply never quite make it through the process. US citizens should pay particular attention to the kinds of processes created as well as the bureaucratic structure created to administer the processes. Applicants who “got lost” in the process of applying for 501 c 4 status in the lead-up to the 2012 elections could testify to the ability of the federal government to restrict perfectly legal activity by creating a process and a bureaucratic snarl that effectively shuts the activity down. If the federal government in the US ever officially decides that unfettered religion is a danger to civil society, it already has a ready-made model which can be appropriated to address the “threat.”
The doorway to persecution in the USA is being pushed open by both cultural and political forces. The activists of persecution are pouring through the doorway. Many are busy about the work of opposition. Some are already in the business of disinformation. The courts in general still provide a bulwark against injustice, although secular thinkers increasingly allege that Christians who claim the right of “free exercise” of religion in opposition to government mandates amounts to demands for religious privilege. To date, Christians in the US have not been subject to mistreatment—arrest, torture or execution. It is still possible to enjoy religious liberty in the US, but that liberty is threatened on every hand. Both cultural and political pressure is increasing in the direction of restricting and suppressing any expression of Christian faith in daily life. It needs to be repeated that the pressure is increasing. It is bearable today, and egregious behavior that severely restricts Christians who try to live their faith has so far been stopped by courts faithful to the Constitution’s protection for religious liberty. Nevertheless, if Christians wish to continue to enjoy religious liberty in the USA, prayerful vigilance, and vigilant prayers will be required.
On March 25 and 26, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on two cases that grow out of the employer mandate of the Affordable Care Act. This case will be a crucial case for religious liberty. Regardless of anyone’s personal convictions about the Affordable Care Act’s coverage requirements for health insurance policies, everyone’s personal convictions about the free exercise of religion are at stake. The federal government’s argument on these cases to date has been to say that when someone opens his doors to conduct business, he has no right to exercise his religious convictions in the course of business transactions. The government is, therefore, attempting to create a barrier against free exercise of religion in public business. The government is saying that the human being who operates a business is not a person with the human right to free exercise of religion. The logic is the same logic by which an unborn human baby is declared not to be a person with the inalienable human right to life.
This Supreme Court case has profound implications for Christians with regard to their right to free exercise of faith. Jesus taught that his followers would live and act in relationship with him at all times and in all contexts—work, play, family, and so forth. The federal government is trying to create a box around business that forbids a Christian from acting on Christian principles when doing business. Christians must engage in prayerful vigilance and vigilant prayers for God’s will to be done in the Supreme Court as a consequence of the oral arguments on March 25 and March 26.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Luke 6:22). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.