10 steps forward for religious freedom in 2020—which ones did you miss?

December 11, 2020 by Isaac Six in Advocacy

In a world transfixed by 24 hours a day of news coverage, it can start to seem like anything that isn’t a major world news headline might just as well not have happened at all.

For instance, in 2020 you could be forgiven for not knowing that a new, formal alliance of 27 countries (now more than 30) was launched to advance religious freedom around the world. Or that Poland just hosted the third annual ministerial to advance religious freedom, attended by senior government leaders from all over the globe.

If you weren’t looking for it, you may have missed the first-ever Executive Order from the White House to advance International Religious Freedom, providing an unprecedented $50 million in funding and helping institutionalized religious freedom as a priority in the 300-plus U.S. embassies, consulates and diplomatic missions around the world.

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Even close observers of  religious freedom work may have already forgotten that, for the first time since 2004, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom recommended that India be designated a “Country of Particular Concern” for committing or allowing serious religious freedom violations to take place. This is good news for the more than 1.3 billion Indian citizens who are finding it increasingly difficult to change their religious beliefs without facing state-backed persecution.

In Sudan, 40 million Sudanese suddenly found themselves considerably freer to follow their conscience, as a new government repealed the nation’s apostasy law. Only a few years ago, the world watched as Meriam Ibrahim, a pregnant Christian mother in Sudan, was sentenced to death by hanging for allegedly converting to Christianity (she had always been a Christian). After a terrible time of imprisonment and tremendous international pressure, Meriam was released. Today in Sudan, she couldn’t even be charged in the first place, nor can any of her fellow Sudanese.

Open Doors USA remained fully engaged on these issues and many others, including:

  • We urged members of President Trump’s team and the National Security Council to engage directly with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the President’s visit to Delhi in February. Although religious freedom wasn’t raised publicly, we know that private discussions were held.
  • We briefed U.S. Senate staff on the situation for Christians in Nigeria and recommended policy actions.
  • We raised the atrocities of horrific attacks and kidnappings of Christian refugees in Bangladesh with D.C. officials.
  • We spoke directly with State Department officials, including the Secretary of State, on numerous sensitive issues where U.S. diplomacy could make a significant difference for the persecuted.
  • We also raised concerns that Christians in some areas have been denied assistance during COVID lockdowns, even as others adhering to the community’s religious beliefs were given relief.

Let’s keep pushing forward…

So what does this mean for 2021? Well, in March of 2020, I wrote for National Review magazine about the “Religious Freedom Revolution” taking place behind the scenes in Washington, D.C.

In 2021, our goal is to keep the momentum of that revolution moving forward. For too long, international religious freedom was regarded as one of the world’s “less important” rights issues. Considering that “worldwide, more than eight-in-ten people identify with a religious group” and that, just among Christians, 260 million are impacted by religious freedom restrictions and violations, this is unconscionable.

As Christians, we know just how much our faith influences every aspect of our lives. Some governments around the world are slowly starting to realize just how much protecting the right to practice one’s faith matters to their citizens. They’re also realizing this comes with a lot of benefits.

So in 2021, let’s keep pushing and let’s keep our expectations high. Regardless of which stories are filling up the news cycle, God continues to work and move in the hearts and lives of people on every corner of the world.

 

Pray for continued momentum in Washington, D.C.

  • Pray that the significant efforts made over the last several years to build coalitions to advance religious freedom globally will not lose momentum. This includes the International Religious Freedom Alliance that more than 30 countries have now joined.
  • Pray that incoming members of Congress (there will be at least 66 new members joining the 117th Congress, starting in January) will be receptive to hearing the stories of those facing persecution, and willing to take action on their behalf.
  • Pray for clarity and wisdom as Open Doors USA navigates the political currents in Washington, D.C., and seeks to build new relationships.
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