By Martin Roth, BosNewsLife Senior Special Correspondent
WASHINGTON, USA (BosNewsLife)– Christians will find little comfort in the U.S. State Department’s recently released International Religious Freedom Report. It confirms what many Christians already knew: The new phenomenon of non-state terrorism has supplanted oppression by government to become the main threat to religious freedom.
And conditions are getting worse, suggests U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom David N. Saperstein. “The single greatest challenge to religious freedom worldwide, or certainly the single greatest emerging challenge…is the abhorrent acts of terror committed by those who falsely claim the mantle of religion to justify their wanton destruction.”
Speaking to journalists in Washington DC about the new report, he singled out the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria for particular condemnation, along with Boko Haram militants in Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger.
But a second challenge is also sadly familiar to Christians – blasphemy laws in countries such as Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Sudan that are used to oppress minorities, especially Christians, whose religious beliefs offend the majority.
Yet, the report did find a modicum of good news amidst the gloom. It noted “encouraging improvements in the status of Christians in Egypt,”such as court convictions for some of the perpetrators of violence against Copts.
It applauded the new Egyptian constitution for providing increased human rights protections, including a stipulation of equality before the law irrespective of religion. “It also requires that parliament pass a new law facilitating the construction and renovation of Christian churches, which is without precedent,” the report said.
Ambassador Saperstein said he also noted another pleasing development. While visiting China he found that despite reported abuses and restrictions, “many places of worship were nonetheless full and flourishing. In areas of the country where the government’s hand was lighter, faith-based social service and welfare agencies operating homeless shelters, orphanages and soup kitchens made highly positive contributions to the wellbeing of their society.”
He also found in Sri Lanka that, after some years of growing religious conflict, a new government was working to ease tensions.
But overall there was little to reassure Christians. When asked by a reporter if conditions were getting better or worse, the ambassador stated bluntly that over the past several years there has been a steady increase in the percentage of people living in countries with serious restrictions on religious freedom.
Then he added: “And of course…the escalation of the violence perpetrated by non-state actors, often in the name of their interpretation of religion, is a new phenomenon that has really escalated in the last 18 months. So on that level, there are trends that are deeply troubling.”
(Martin Roth (www.authormartinroth.com), BosNewsLife’s Senior Special Correspondent is an Australian journalist and a former Tokyo-based foreign correspondent. He is the author of “Journey Out Of Nothing: My Buddhist Path to Christianity” and of the Brother Half Angel series of thrillers, which focus on the persecuted church.