WASHINGTON – Rep. Jody Hice (R-Ga.) last week called for greater attention to the persecution of Christians around the world, arguing that it’s an issue largely ignored by mass media.
The Pew Research Center reported that Christians living in 128 countries were persecuted by governments or social groups in 2015, which is more than any other religious group. The study also noted that there were 2.3 billion Christians in the world that year, exceeding any other religious group. At the same time, Pew noted that about 78 percent of Christians lived in countries where their religious group is harassed, compared to 99 percent of Jews and Hindus and 97 percent of Muslims.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the daughter of a pastor, drew criticism from human rights groups in 2012 when she claimed before the German Protestant Church that Christianity is the “most persecuted religion worldwide.”
“But it’s backed up, and there have been many reports of the plights that Christians are facing in many places around the world,” Hice, who served as a pastor for 25 years, said Oct. 11 during a House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform’s National Security Subcommittee hearing on religious persecution. “Bottom line is we can’t allow these things to continue. They’ve got to be brought to the public’s awareness and dealt with.”
The Italy-based Center for Studies on New Religions, a group led by theology scholars who claim to be independent from any religious sect, released a report earlier this year showing that 90,000 Christians were killed for their beliefs across the globe in 2016, and about 66 percent died at the hands of Islamic extremists.
Hice said that while Christians suffer greatly in places like Saudi Arabia, Iran, Jordan, Kuwait and Qatar, North Korea and China are also responsible for discrimination and violence toward Christians. In July, the Georgia lawmaker introduced House Resolution 434, which targets general religious persecution in China. That includes violence and any limitations to free expression for practicing faith.
The resolution calls on “the Chinese government to uphold the Chinese Constitution in addition to the internationally recognized human right to freedom from religious persecution and to end all forms of violence and discrimination against religious minorities.”
China is a predominantly atheist state, but its Christian population has exploded since the 1980s. According to the Catholic News Agency, the Christian population in China grew from 10 million in 1980 to 60 million in 2007. In 2014, the Telegraph reported that China was on track to overtake the U.S. by 2030 as the most Christian nation on earth.
The Chinese government has shown instances of cracking down on churches, demanding that leaders show allegiance to the state first. Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist Ian Johnson claimed earlier this year that there’s growing unrest in China’s economic situation, which has contributed to Christianity’s growth.
“Religious liberty is a universal right, not just something that we cherish here in America,” Hice said. “It should be something that’s cherished around the world, regardless again of what the religion may be that is held by an individual.”
The White House in May issued an executive order promoting “free speech and religious liberty,” with President Trump proclaiming that the U.S. will no longer allow religious groups to be “targeted, bullied or silenced anymore.” The president vowed to lead by example on religious liberty. The order loosens regulations governing IRS enforcement guidelines that muzzle political speech and activities from tax-exempt organizations like churches.
“We are giving our churches their voices back,” Trump said in May.