Tag Archives: Universal Declaration of Human Rights

The Ninth Amendment is Your Amendment, Too

The Ninth Amendment to the US Constitution, part of the Bill of Rights, states, “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”

This amendment is in danger of being forgotten and abandoned as the US government makes serious efforts to pretend that the text of the Constitution is “living and breathing,” which is to say, that the text is subject to reinterpretation in the light of a contemporary government agenda that is unconstitutional. Citizens need to be assertive about the rights protected by this amendment. The recent denial of refugee status to the Romeike family who fled Germany because the German government prohibits them from teaching their children any values that the government does not approve is an example of the potential for an unenumerated right to be suppressed and lost.

The crux of the matter in the US lies in the intention of the Founders who worded the Constitution specifically to limit the power and growth of the federal government. Students of American history will recall that prior to the American Revolution, the thirteen colonies that ultimately broke away from the British Empire were governed as if each was a nation of its own – a colonial nation, but a nation, nonetheless. If one views a map of Africa today, one will see several nations along the west coast of Africa which once were colonies in the British Empire. When those colonies obtained independence, each stood alone in the effort to become independent, and each stood alone after independence. In North America, the thirteen British colonies along the east coast of the continent worked in concert under the leadership of a gathering of representatives from each colony, a group which called itself the Continental Congress. Each colony functioned as an independent state which chose to cede some of its power and sovereignty to the group which chose George Washington to head their military efforts. The colonists used the term “state” in the sense of being an autonomous, sovereign nation in its own right. After the Revolution, the former colonies continued to think of themselves as independent nations which simply ceded some authority and power to the group in order to achieve better military defense and to protect international and interstate commerce. At no time did those states believe themselves to be departments of the federation. At no time did they believe that they or their citizens had surrendered any rights and powers to the federal government except the ones named in the Constitution and its amendments. During the circulation of the Constitution for purposes of ratification, the Ninth Amendment was proposed precisely for the purpose of preventing the loss of unenumerated rights. The federal government was to be limited to the powers enumerated, but the citizens were not to be limited in that manner.

The Ninth Amendment, part of the Bill of Rights passed during the First Congress after ratification of the Constitution, was intended to assert and reaffirm the fact that the Constitution only named rights and powers which the states had ceded to the federal government. The Ninth Amendment, more than any other words in the Founding documents, asserts that citizens of the United States of America have broad and comprehensive freedom to manage their own affairs without interference from the government.  The men who created the Constitution actually believed that human freedom including a vast treasure of human rights was bestowed on every human being by God himself. Those who wrote and those who voted to enact and those who ratified the Ninth Amendment would be appalled to hear a contemporary Attorney General of the United States of America say that no liberty was lost by anyone if a law that cancelled a basic human right applied equally to everyone.

This notion is the logic behind the recent denial of refugee status to the Romeike family. The family fled Germany because German law forbids parents to educate their children themselves and specifically forbids them to teach any alternate social or moral value system different from that of the state. The law dates back to the Nazi era and is a deliberate expression of the Nazi view that children belonged to the state, not to their parents. The law is enforced by forbidding parents to homeschool their children, and enforcement extends to measures such as huge fines and even the loss of parents’ custodial rights to their children, who are removed from the home and placed with families who agree to comply with the law requiring children to attend state-operated schools.

The Romeikes are being denied refugee status because the Attorney General of the United States of America does not recognize a universal human right which is protected in the United States by the Ninth Amendment of the Constitution. It could be anyone. It could be you. The fact is that in the United States, education is compulsory everywhere, for good reason, but in the United States, there is currently no prohibition against homeschooling. Until now, every parent in the USA had every reason to believe that the Ninth Amendment protected the right of parents to choose and control the education of their children. Even though education is compulsory, the parents have the right to control the content of that education, including the right to educate their own children according to their own values. For American citizens, the universal right of parents to control the education of their own children has meant that families who object to the teaching of homosexual practices have the freedom to homeschool their children and teach their own values in sex education. Families who believe that God created the universe in which we live, and that God created the first and all subsequent human beings, may homeschool their children and include that teaching in the children’s education. Parents who believe that their children need the freedom to pray openly during the school day as part of the education process can homeschool their children in that environment. To date, the Ninth Amendment has upheld the universal human right for parents to control the education of their children.

Interestingly, both the USA and Germany are signatories to the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states in Article 26, section 3, “Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.” Obviously the national commitment of Germany to the rights contained in this Declaration has not extended to its law controlling education. While some citizens may have thought that the fact that the US signed that declaration meant that parental control of the education of their children is protected, the evidence of the Romeike case suggests otherwise.

In the United States, for most of its history, education was managed locally and within the states. Only since the inception of the federal Department of Education has the federal government extended its tentacles into local schools. The demands and mandates delivered and enforced upon public schools around the nation would have no effect if the schools dissociated themselves from federal money, but the perceived need for money has led the schools to give away their own rights, and with them the rights of parents to have a voice in their children’s education. As a result, there arises the specter of a Congress which might have the same view of this human right as the current Attorney General. A Congress which believed that if a human right is denied to all people equally, then it is not persecution, might very well pass a law that forbade American parents to homeschool their own children, and American parents might be at risk of arrests, fines and loss of custody of their children, just like the Romeike family. Where will that family go in all the world to find a country that actually enforces the protection of the universal human right for parents to control the education of their children? If they cannot be granted refuge in the land of the Ninth Amendment, then where will they go?

Christians have a profound reason to be concerned about this. Christians need to recognize that when they assert their First Amendment right to the free exercise of their religion, they may not be able to claim that protection for the education of their children. Certainly most Christians believe that God expects parents to educate their children in the faith. The attitude of the current Attorney General suggests that he does not share that understanding of the “free exercise” of religion. Likewise, the narrowly worded conscience exemption for employers who object to the mandate to provide contraception, sterilization and abortion as preventive health services in an employee insurance package points to a very narrow interpretation of the meaning of religion and the meaning of the exercise of religion by the federal government. Christians would be very wise to include prayer on this subject in their daily prayers. However, it seems likely that God would act on those prayers through human beings obedient to his call to speak up and speak out for the rights protected by the Ninth Amendment as well as all the rights protected by the First Amendment.

When the Constitution was being circulated among the states for the purpose of ratification, many people were concerned because it did not enumerate all the possible rights that might need to be protected. The original authors of the Constitution responded to this concern at first by pointing out that the Constitution defined a government of limited powers.  They recognized that people feared the possibility that if something were not forbidden to the federal government, it would assert its authority there and claim that no law prevented its doing so. Many is the child who has engaged in destructive anti-social behavior and claimed the right to do so, because “there is no law against it.” The authors of the Constitution specifically designed the Constitution to list the powers of the federal government, and their understanding of the document was that if a power were not granted to the federal government, then the federal government did not have that power.

Other people claimed that in the absence of a prohibition, aggressive and assertive political leaders would encroach on the powers of the states and the rights of the people, perhaps in the name of some universal good, but nevertheless in violation of the intent of the Constitution. Fortunately for the country, those wiser voices prevailed. The Ninth Amendment was written to assure that people could not be deprived of any of their natural rights due to a failure to list them in the Constitution. A reading of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights will immediately confirm the problem of listing all the rights people possess by virtue of their being human. The Founders were wise not to attempt it as part of the discussion of the design of government for the thirteen new states in the United States of America.

A refugee from persecution in some other country is not considered a citizen of the United States of America, and that means that the Constitution does not give the refugee the rights of a citizen. The protection of universal human rights within the Constitution and other founding documents, however, implies a respect for those rights. It is our respect for those rights that creates a sense of obligation to identify individuals and families fleeing persecution by governments that ignore or defy the existence of those rights. A refugee who has fled for his life from a country where his faith or his political views make him a target for violence will find safe haven here. A refugee who is not only forbidden free exercise of his faith but is also at risk of imprisonment and torture in attempts to compel him to recant will find safe haven in the USA. It is hard to believe that parents who flee a government that has assessed huge fines and threatened the kidnapping of their children because it does not protect the universal right for parents to control the education of their children would be deported back to the very government which has threatened them.

Christians must care about the protection of fundamental, universal human rights. The right of Christian citizens in the USA is at risk as certainly as the rights of refugees seeking asylum. Even if this case were centered on an atheist family fleeing persecution in Bhutan or Buddhist family fleeing persecution in Uzbekistan, Christians should be concerned. When the Attorney General of the USA says that a law that suppresses free exercise of the right of parents to control the education of their children does not create persecution as long as it prohibits everyone equally, then something is terribly wrong. Christians must pray about this problem, but Christians must act to assert protection of the God-given responsibility to educate children in the values of the parents. Ignore this problem at your peril.

Fundamental Human Rights Are Important to Christians

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, one of the first achievements of the United Nations, was signed by the United States on December 10, 1948. For many countries, the freedoms named in this document were not always comfortable, and many signers fall far from actually protecting the rights in this declaration. Article 18 is particularly problematic for countries with state religions, but the USA has no state religion, and until recently, the USA would have been regarded as exemplary in its enforcement of Article 18. In fact, most American citizens would see in Article 18 a wordier statement that protects the same rights protected in the First Amendment to the Constitution of the USA.

                The First Amendment to the US Constitution reads as follows:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

 

                Articles 18 and 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights read as follows:

Article 18

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Article 19

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

                It is important to note that the First Amendment protects both a right to the exercise of religion and a right to freedom of speech. The two rights are addressed separately in Articles 18 and 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Whether protected in a single article or in two, those rights are naturally and logically linked, because speech is integral to the exercise of religion. It is worth noting that the authors and legislators who passed the First Amendment did not think it necessary to say that a person was free to change his religion and free to manifest it in teaching, while two hundred years of observation of nations and human oppression motivated the authors of the UDHR to spell out those rights. The fact that they are not elaborated in more words does not reduce the protection of the First Amendment, because all those issues were intended to be incorporated within it. The Founders of the USA wanted to be sure that citizens could speak and act on their faith, including the right to persuasive and instructive speech. Even though they knew that any unprotected human right is subject to be suppressed by an autocratic or dictatorial government, they could hardly have imagined that in the twenty-first century, the freedom to speak of one’s religion and to talk with others about its teachings and its value would be compared to rape. Yet this sort of thing is actually happening in the US military.

                Writing in the Washington Post, Sally Quinn reported a conversation with Mikey Weinstein of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation discussing his concerns that military personnel should not be subjected to what he called “proselytizing”: “This is a national security threat. What is happening [aside from sexual assault] is spiritual rape. And what the Pentagon needs to understand is that it is sedition and treason. It should be punished.” This is harsh language for the act of sharing our faith that is central to Christian discipleship. Weinstein was returning from a meeting with Pentagon officials where he participated in a discussion of proselytizing, a practice Weinstein considers to be as brutal as sexual assault. Pressed for some explanation of his attitude, Weinstein placed the real onus for such brutality on groups he called “dominionist” and “fundamentalist,” but it is his general attitude that is concerning to Christians. Christians consider Christ’s command to “make disciples” wherever they go to be a foundation principle for obedient discipleship. For any part of the government to attempt to shut down the freedom to talk with others about their faith would simultaneously shut down their freedom to exercise their faith.

                For the moment, the military is attempting to quiet the uproar caused by Mr. Weinstein’s comment. An announcement reported in USA Today simply says that conversations about faith are allowed as long as they don’t constitute harassment. Needless to say, the definition of “harassment” is fairly subjective, but for the moment, it is not considered treason for one soldier to offer to pray with one of his fellow soldiers, or for a petty officer to invite her bunkmates to a prayer meeting.

                This issues concerns Christians, however, because it brings to light an attitude that is not unknown in the culture at large. While many secular thinkers simply ignore Christians, some feel obligated, like Mikey Weinstein, to protest and attempt to suppress expressions of Christian faith. The Freedom From Religion Foundation strongly protests the National Day of Prayer each year. This year’s announcement included this statement: “Don’t let the Christian Right hijack our secular Constitution.” Just last month, the FFRF celebrated joyously because they succeeded in persuading the Breathitt County Schools in Kentucky to remove displays of the Ten Commandments on the basis that the displays amounted to establishing a state religion. (Exactly how a display posted by a school district is in violation of the Constitutional prohibition against an act of Congress to establish a religion is not clear, but the displays were removed nonetheless.)

                While many Christians prefer to stay out of political warfare, they need to know and care about attempts to suppress the freedom to share the faith. The authors of the US Constitution and the authors of the UNDHR all felt strongly about the freedom both to choose a religion and to talk about it with others, even to be persuasive in the conversation. This right is not universally protected. In many countries, the government states a commitment to freedom of religion, but the “freedom” is actually nonexistent due to the tightly constricted legal language. For example in China, people are “free” to be Christians or not as they choose, but if they choose to be Christian, they must belong to a church the government registers and read the Bible the government prints and listen to preachers the government authorizes. If they meet with neighbors for a spontaneous prayer meeting or if they choose to attend a church led by a pastor who did not graduate from the seminary the government operates, they can be arrested and imprisoned. The kind of liberty Christians enjoy in the US today is not common around the world.

                The news about the attempt of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation to suppress the sharing of Christian faith is just a hint at the ferocious enmity of some secular thinkers toward Christians. It is worth noting that secular thinkers constitute only one pincer of the cultural challenge Christians face in the US. The other pincer is Islam, and Islam is even more ferociously opposed to Christian evangelism than atheists in general. The move by Islam to promote the incorporation of sharia courts into the American legal structures could result in significant suppression of the ability of Christians to share their testimony with Muslims in the US. In a sharia court it would be a serious crime to converse with a Muslim for the purpose of sharing some other faith.

                Jesus warned Christians that the world would reject them, because the world rejects him. It is clearly as true in the US as in any other nation. Unlike a nation such as China or Uzbekistan, the US actually responds to citizen action to protect rights such as the freedom to exercise the faith. Christians may wish not to be sullied by dirty politics, and they certainly should stay out of the mudfights, but Christians can and they must be voices for the freedom to exercise the faith in speech and action. Pray for the USA, and pray for the continued protection of the freedoms protected by the First Amendment. Freedoms that are not protected disappear.

Language Alert — National Security

The term national security sounds like a matter for great concern. If something threatens national security, it sounds terrifying. Our nation might fall to an enemy if someone walking around loose in our country is aiding and abetting an aggressor nation that wants to conquer us. Ask most people what it takes to protect our national security, and they believe that it takes an army and/or a navy. We all understand that someone who sells information to an enemy is a threat to our national security, even though it takes a policeman, or someone more like a policeman than a soldier, to stop him. Whatever it takes, we want it done. We want to be secure within the borders of our nation, and we want all threats to that security destroyed.

Iran classified Saeed Abedini as a threat to national security and arrested him. He has now been tried, convicted, and sentenced to eight years in Evin Prison, because he is a threat to national security. Saeed Abedini was guilty of helping to start and operate Christian house churches after converting from Islam to Christianity. His conversion and his work in support of churches are considered by Iran’s government to be a threat to its national security.

In the USA, where we have no state church, and where everyone is free to belong to any church, to move from church to church, or to refuse to believe in any god or religion whatsoever, we cannot imagine how somebody’s religion or change of religion can possibly be a threat to national security. The people who founded the colonies that became the USA mostly came from countries that had state religions, and many of them fled their homes in those countries because they were treated like enemies of the state for belonging to the wrong religion. In countries with state churches, the religion is an integral part of the government. To do anything against the state religion is to act against the state. Ancestors of US citizens knew exactly what it meant to be persecuted for rejecting or undercutting the state religion. When they established a new nation, they made very sure that the new nation would not have a state religion.

This idea is actually quite unusual, even in today’s world. There are many nations in the world that declare that they protect freedom of religion, and most of them have signed the UN Declaration of Human Rights which declares freedom of religion to be one of the universal human rights. However, many, many nations that have signed this declaration have very unusual interpretations of their obligation to protect religious freedom. The problem usually centers in a state religion.

Iran is only one among many where Islam is the state religion or the dominant religion and the government regards an affront to Islam as a breach of national security. Islam-dominated cultures almost universally incorporate sharia law into the national law, and sharia law declares that anyone who converts from Islam to any other religion deserves to die. It is not common for the death sentence to be applied for this offense, but sharia allows such inhumane treatment of prisoners that many might actually prefer death to the suffering of imprisonment.

The World Watch List maintained by Open Doors International tells the story. This list is comprised of the 50 countries where it is most dangerous to be a Christian. Below is a list of 8 of the 10 most dangerous countries. #1 on the World Watch Rank is North Korea, which is the most dangerous, most repressed, country in the world, where it is dangerous for everyone but the top leaders. #10 on the World Watch Rank is Eritrea. Of the 10 nations in the world where it is most dangerous to be a Christian, 8 are countries where the state religion or the dominant religion is Islam. The story of Saeed Abedinin can be and has been reprised in various forms in all these countries.

 

WorldWatch

Rank

Country Name The role of Islam in the Country
2 Saudi Arabia No provision for religious freedom in the constitution of this Islamic kingdom. The legal system is based on sharia. All citizens must adhere to Islam. Conversion to another religion is punishable by death.
3 Afghanistan The Constitution of Afghanistan says:Article One

 Ch. 1. Art. 1: Afghanistan is an Islamic Republic, independent, unitary and indivisible state.

Article Two

Ch. 1, Art. 2: The religion of the state of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan is the sacred religion of Islam.

Followers of other religions are free to exercise their faith and perform their religious rites within the limits of the provisions of law.

Article Three Ch. 1, Art. 3

In Afghanistan, no law can be contrary to the beliefs and laws [ahkam] of the sacred religion of Islam.

NOTE: Not  a single official church remains in Afghanistan.

4 Iraq Iraq’s Constitution, like those of many Islam-dominated countries, says, “Article 2: First: Islam is the official religion of the State and is the primary basis for legislation:

No legislation may be enacted that contradicts the established laws of Islam

The Constitution also guarantees religious liberty, but that liberty is confined within “the established laws of Islam.”

About 95% of Iraq’s citizens are adherents of Sunni Islam.

Christianity arrived in Persia as a consequence of Pentecost, and Christian churches thrived there until recently. In 2003 there were more than a million Christians in Iraq, but today there are less than 345,000.

 

5 Somalia Islamic religious leaders maintain that Somalia must remain a strictly Islamic state without room for Christians or churches. The largest known Christian church in Somalia has 5 members.
6 Maldives The government of Maldives considers itself to be the protector and defender of Islam. Anyone who converts from Islam to any other religion loses Maldivian citizenship, thereby becoming stateless. The law against importation of Christian publications is so strict that the personal Bibles of tourists have even been confiscated.
7 Mali Historically, Mali was a constitutionally secular state, and it did not even appear on the 2012 World Watch List. In April 2012, the northern part of the country was captured by militant Islamists who established an Islamic state under sharia law. Christian church buildings are being systematically destroyed, and the objective of the government is to eradicate Christianity with the nation’s borders.
8 Iran The arrest and conviction of Pastor Saeed Abedini as a threat to national security lays bare the truth that Iran has been arresting Christians as threats to national security for years. Islam is the state religion. Iran signed the UN Declaration of Universal Human Rights, but there is no evidence that the Islamic leaders who control the government feel themselves obligated in any way by that signature.
9 Yemen Islam is the state religion, and sharia is the source of law. Evangelism is prohibited. Converts from Islam to Christianity face the death penalty.

 

The logic behind the allegation that Christianity is a threat to the national security of Islamic states  is often linked to an accusation that Christianity is alien to the nation and the culture of the people. Most often Christians are accused of representing interests in the US and western Europe. Most importantly Americans need to understand that to Muslims, there really are none of the distinctions we make between the culture, the government and religion. Islam is a religion, because it worships a god and has teachings and practices like other religions. However, for a Muslime the government, the culture and the religion are all tightly integrated. Christians believe that they must live their faith in whatever culture or under whatever government they find themselves. Islam teaches that all these areas must be subject to sharia, which, in their view, is God’s law.

Today in the US, while Christians face very obvious cultural restrictions from secularism and even face government pressure due to secular redefinitions of historic principles, the pressure from Islam is more subtle. The shock Americans felt after September 11 has somewhat subsided, and the rebound effect is leading many Americans to feel they need to make extra efforts to be accepting and accommodating toward Muslims. Christians certainly do not want to be aggressive toward Muslims in the US, no matter what Muslims are doing in countries like Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan or Maldives. It is a challenge.

Interestingly, the Christian worldview that everything in life must be governed by a relationship with Christ does not at first sound so different from the Islamic worldview in which everything is subject to God’s law. Both Christians and Muslims believe that faith in their supreme being shapes everything they do. Unfortunately the two groups do not hear the same messages from their supreme lawgivers. Pour these two worldviews into a pot bubbling with the notion that every person is on his own to figure out right and wrong and that humans as a species are evolving new and different ideas as the species matures, and these are the ingredients of a very caustic stew.

Citizens of the USA must not make the mistake of automatically categorizing Muslims as threats to national security the way Muslims in Iran categorize Christians. To do so would be to fall into the same error as secularists who categorize Christians as sociopaths because some Christians exercising their faith appear to act in opposition to the cultural momentum. It is obvious that Christians in the USA must walk a tightrope between the pressures exerted on the culture by Islam and by secular thinkers. It is equally obvious that in this environment, it will not be easy to share Christ and his love for all people. In fact, that is exactly what Christians in Islam-dominated countries around the world have been jailed for. How can we ever do it?

What do you think is the most important principle for Christians trying to navigate the American culture with secularism, Islam and even numerous variant Christian viewpoints in the mix? What is the right way in this setting to live our mission to share Christ’s love and make disciples of the whole world?  What do you think the Christians sentenced to long terms in Evin prison in Iran would say? Do you think the USA will ever classify Christians as threats to national security?

Iran Imprisons and Tries an American Christian

If the world hates you,
be aware that it hated me before it hated you.
John 15:18 

During a press briefing on January 15, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney had no answer when a reporter asked if the president of the United States were aware that a Christian who is an American citizen is being held prisoner in Iran. Obviously the president cannot know everything, but this situation is so extraordinary that most people would expect not only that the president would know about it but also that the president would have a strong statement to make on the subject. Saeed Abedini is an American citizen and a Christian. He was arrested during a visit to Iran during which he was helping Iranian Christians build an orphanage. He traveled to Iran subsequent to an agreement with Iran’s intelligence police that authorized him to travel inside Iran and to work on the orphanage. Charges against Abedini have not been made publicly available, but they are known to accuse him of being a threat to national security. The attorney who will represent him in Iran was only given access to his case file during the past week, even though the case is scheduled for trial on Monday, January 21. Members of the US Senate and the US House of Representatives have requested that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton work through her international contacts to request that Iran set this American citizen free and clear him of charges that are obviously false, but she has taken no action. There has been no statement of support for Saeed Abedini from either the President or the Secretary of State.

American Christians wonder why.

Most American citizens believe that our nation stands for the broadest possible interpretation of religious liberty. That idea grows out of the First Amendment to our Constitution which says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” In the USA we do not believe in having a state religion, and we do not believe that the government should inhibit, prohibit or punish the exercise of religion. We do not believe a citizen should be prevented from or punished for actions and words consistent with the teachings of his faith. (There have been some very limited deviations from that principle, mostly due to activities alleged to be religious which are nevertheless themselves an assault on basic human rights. We would, for example, draw the line at allowing parents to burn their children on altars as sacrifices to any god.)

Representatives of the USA have promoted this same freedom around the world. When the United Nations was first organized, one of its earliest accomplishments was the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which includes strong statements mandating religious liberty. Wherever the government of the USA has had any influence, it has historically spoken out for religious freedom. Therefore, it makes perfect sense for Christians in the USA to expect that when a US citizen is arrested for being a Christian while visiting some other country, the administration of the USA would speak and act strongly to persuade that country to release this citizen.

It startles and disturbs American citizens to discover that our government is doing nothing at all to help an American citizen arrested for being a Christian, accused of being a threat to national security because he is a Christian, and put on trial before a judge with the reputation of imprisoning human rights attorneys for being just as much a threat to national security as their clients. Why would the government of the USA be so reticent to speak in this case?

The answer may lie in an issue closer to home. At present, more than forty suits have been filed against the federal government seeking relief from the employer mandate of the Affordable Care Act on the grounds that it infringes on religious liberty. More than forty cases are in the federal court system right now, and they all hinge on whether the federal government has properly defined the boundaries of religious liberty. The federal government is standing firmly behind a regulation that defines a “religious employer” and the government contends that First Amendment protection applies only to a “religious employer.” The government has further stated in arguments before the courts that nothing religious happens in a for-profit business and that therefore no owner of a for-profit business can claim to be expressing his faith in the course of operating that business. The definition of a “religious employer” is clear. It applies to houses of worship and nothing more.

This definition might make sense if our Constitution protected only “freedom of worship.” If the Constitution only protected our right to attend any church we like without the threat of being arrested, then the federal regulation defining a “religious employer” would make sense. If that were the case, we might understand why our President and our Secretary of State do not speak out and take all the actions within their power to influence Iran to release Saeed Abedini and drop all charges against him. After all, Saeed Abedini was helping to build an orphanage as an act shaped by his faith. Building an orphanage is not an act of worship inside a building dedicated to worship. If freedom of worship is the issue, then maybe Saeed Abedini belongs in prison, because he was not engaged in worship. He was engaged in actions motivated and directed by the tenets of his faith. Because our President and our Secretary of State are not making any statements or taking any action, we must conclude that these two very powerful leaders in our country actually believe that our Constitution protects only “freedom of worship,” and that our moral leadership around the world is also limited to “freedom of worship.”

Christians must pray for wisdom in this matter. As we pray that God will act to turn the heart of the judge and the national leadership of Iran toward the release of Saeed Abedini, we must pray with heavy hearts. We must also pray for our own country and for our own religious liberty. We must bow our heads and our hearts before God and ask him for guidance and strength to fight a battle we never thought we would need to fight. We thought that the First Amendment protected our liberty to live our faith without interference from our government, but we cannot assume that protection anymore.

If anyone asks our President or our Secretary of State or our Secretary of Health and Human Services if they believe in First Amendment protection of religious liberty, every one of them will answer “Yes!” They will surely think they are speaking the truth. Unfortunately, if the definition of “religious employer” in the regulations implementing the Affordable Care Act is allowed to stand, the meaning of the First Amendment is redefined and our freedom to live and speak our faith in the USA is severely restricted.

What should we do?

Pray for Saeed Abedini and for his attorney in Iran. Pray that Saeed will be released and that all the charges against him will be dropped. Pray for Iran to stop considering that any religion but Islam is a threat to national security. Pray that no matter what happens, Saeed will be strengthened in his faith and his testimony for Christ. Pray that in our prayers we may be joined with Saeed in his suffering and his testimony.

Then pray for the USA. Pray that our President and his administration will be enlightened to understand that the regulation defining a “religious employer” is a breach of First Amendment protection of religious liberty. Speak out when people talk about these issues. Help others understand that whether you are Hindu or Muslim or Christian or atheist, this freedom is essential to all. Pray for God to guide your words as he shapes your heart in order that the discourse surrounding this issue is loving, respectful and directed by the Holy Spirit, not by anger or fear. Pray that the USA will continue to be a beacon for the freedom God gave to all of us in the Constitution. Pray. Pray that no matter what happens, the faith and the testimony of each Christian will be strengthened by the work of the Holy Spirit. Pray that in our prayers Saeed may be joined with us in our suffering and our testimony.

For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ
not only to believe on him,
but also to suffer for him.
Philippians 1:29

 

                                                           

How Should Christians Respond to Problems in Sudan and South Sudan?

south-sudan-map-2011The headline reads, “Christians Threatened by Islamist Attacks and Famine.” The dateline is Sudan. What is going on here?

Anyone who begins research on the issues that plague Sudan and South Sudan immediately discovers a plague of confusion. News articles are not necessarily clear about geographic references unless the names of towns are included. Spoken references to “southern Sudan” and to “South Sudan” sustain the confusion until the researcher gets the map clearly in mind. However, Christians in the USA need to focus on the issues that shape the map, and when they do, they will learn some truths important for everyone.

The country of Sudan has a long history in Africa. It was administered by Great Britain during the colonial era and achieved independence in 1956. The population then, as now, was largely Arab in the north and tribal in the south. In the north, Islam was and is the dominant religion, while in the south, Christianity thrives alongside numerous animist religions linked to tribal identity. To complicate matters, rich petroleum resources in the south began to be developed in the late 90’s, and the pipelines that transport the crude oil to the marketplace run through the northern section. The nation suffered disconnects along ethnic, religious and economic fracture lines from the beginning. It seems no more than natural that the southern region of Sudan agitated for independence for years before it officially seceded in 2011. Today Sudan and South Sudan are still embroiled in the conflicts that led to separation.

The problems in Sudan and South Sudan are brought to our attention by the cries and prayers of Christians suffering persecution there. These problems should give all Christians pause.

First, we are all part of the body of Christ, and when one part suffers, we all suffer. In the spirit of shared suffering, we pray for Christians in Sudan and South Sudan. Continuing border disputes with Sudan have left some Christian communities inside the borders of Sudan in the southern part of the country. The Sudanese government, a government which has claimed to want “100% Islam” in the country, has expressed itself by allowing, if not actually instigating, aerial bombings of Christian communities by Sudanese Security Forces. Christians in southern Sudan are just as much the victims of aggression on behalf of Islam as those who died in New York on September 11, 2001.

Second, the concept of “100% Islam” is hard for free people to comprehend. Americans are accustomed to decide what they want to believe in the realm of religion and to act on it with complete freedom. They cannot imagine what it would be like to live under a government committed to the principle that everyone in the country should be Muslim. Furthermore, Americans would say that a member of the United Nations ought not to persecute any religion, because that behavior is proscribed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The government of Sudan, however, courting the support of the majority of its population, is not only advocating that the nation be “100% Islam,” but it allows national security forces to attack, arrest, and even torture non-Muslims. The predominantly Christian population of the southern area inside Sudan is under constant assault, and even after the formation of separate countries there have been instances of cross-border aggression against Christians in South Sudan.

The facts suggest, however, that the pro-Islamic fervor and the anti-Christian aggression are likely as much about economics as religion. The Islamic population of Sudan has few sources for water and few resources for economic growth.  The majority of sources for both water and petroleum are in areas where the majority population is Christian. Government leadership appears disinclined to negotiate the sharing of resources, opting instead to tacitly approve aggression against the “infidels” in the region where resources are plentiful.

What can Christians learn from the battlefields of Sudan and South Sudan?

First, they can learn to pray for all parties to the religious persecution. Christ taught us to love our enemies and pray for them. Christians who take their faith seriously do not simply want the bombing of Christian villages to stop, desirable as that may be. We always and supremely want every person to know Christ and to know his forgiveness and grace in their own lives. It isn’t easy to pray for someone you first need to forgive, but the Christians who suffer persecution and those who suffer and pray with them must keep Christ first in their hearts and first in their prayers.

Second, they can pray for all parties to the economic despair that adds fuel to the fires of aggression. All the people in Sudan and South Sudan suffer because their economy is a wreck. In the late nineties when oil production began, before the country was divided, they all started to see some hope for improvement to a way of life that is hardly subsistence level. However, the cultural and religious differences that split Sudan and South Sudan have disrupted development of petroleum, the one resource they all had for any hope of prosperity, and the continuing battles against Christians gain focus because most of the Christians live in the area where most of the oil is located. When Sudan threatened exorbitant fees for use of the pipelines required to transport South Sudan’s oil to market, South Sudan simply shut down production. The outcome? Ever deepening poverty for all. Christians must pray for God’s provision and for God’s guidance in the use of his provision. The resources exist for a comfortably prosperous nation, but self-serving leaders and narrow vision strangle the process that could provide for all.

Third, they can pray for two governments, multiple religions and countless tribal groupings who truly do not comprehend that it is possible for them all to prosper and live in peace together. Why? Because very few of the people involved have ever seen people of various ethnic, religious and economic origins live in peace together. It is too late in time to judge Great Britain for failing to nurture self-respect, tolerance and productive behaviors during the colonial era. The empire had its own problems, and of course, nobody is perfect, but the outcome is that when Sudan gained its independence, the newly-independent people still had a lot to learn, and to un-learn. They are still learning. A careful reading of news and editorials posted on websites in the two countries makes it clear that voices of reason and integrity are bubbling to the top, occasionally making themselves heard above the voices of partisan economic, religious and tribal agitation. Christians need to pray for God’s Spirit to work in these two countries to transform their leaders into responsible, accountable servants of the people instead of venal thieves lining their own pockets with the revenues people can ill afford to sacrifice for the elusive blessing of good government.

When Christians hear that other Christians are being persecuted, it is easy to feel empathy pains, but Christians should not jump to the conclusion that persecution is the whole story. We are called to be little Christs in all situations. We may not personally be able to take any action to change things in Sudan and South Sudan, but we can invoke the mightiest power in the universe to act there, simply because we know that Christ loves the people of Sudan and South Sudan – the Muslims, the Christians, the animist worshipers in tribal religions, and those whose despair has led them to doubt there even is a God. We can pray. We must pray, with the faith that moves mountains.

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Some material is this post is drawn from weekly prayer updates provided by The Voice of the Martyrs.