Recent rhetoric at the United Nations condemns criticism of Islam, but a new report from a UN task force on religious freedom — released, ironically, when Christians worldwide were observing the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church — says the far greater human rights concern is prejudice against certain religions and restrictions on the right to believe and worship as a person wishes.
Melissa Steffan reports for Christianity Today:
Nov. 9, 2012 — Restrictions on religious conversion have “become a human rights problem of great concern,” according to the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief.
Speaking to the UN General Assembly last week, Heiner Bielefeldt said those violations need to stop. He urged states to “consistently respect, protect and promote the human right to freedom of religion or belief in the area of conversion.”
Bielefeldt relayed the findings of his comprehensive report, which was distributed in August. The report analyzes “patterns of abuses that are perpetrated in the name of religious or ideological truth claims.”
In his address, Bielefeldt said some religious freedom abuses were perpetrated by state agencies, but many more were the result of widespread societal prejudices against certain religions. In addition, he said the violations against women were of particular concern.
… This is a particular problem in countries like India, where Hindu nationalists initiated attacks on Christians, 20 of whom were arrested for celebrating baptisms, in Orissa in October. A similar attempt to force Christians to convert back to Hinduism occurred in September.
CT has previously noted the case of Ethiopian Christians who were detained and pressured to convert to Islam in Saudi Arabia. In 2011, CT noted the arrests of 12 people in India for converting to Christianity without notifying government officials first.
It is true that some people who claim to be Christians behave hatefully toward those who do not share their religion, but anyone who reads the teachings of Jesus knows that is not authentic Christianity and that the vast majority of Christian teachers tell followers Jesus requires them to love their enemies and bless those who persecute them.
By the same token, extreme strains of Hinduism and even Buddhism restrict anyone who teaches other beliefs and punish anyone who leaves those religions to follow another path. In the world of Islam, however, ordinary Muslims discriminate against and persecute followers of other faiths and Islamic teachers in unnumbered villages tell their adherents that anyone who leaves Islam for another way deserves to die. By far, the greatest discrimination and persecution is experienced by people who choose to follow Jesus.
You don’t have to look far to find evidence that followers of Jesus, by the hundreds of thousands, suffer every day at the hands of dark-hearted individuals. Christian girls are abducted, raped, and “permitted” to “convert” to the religion of their rapist. Young men who “disgrace” their families by deciding to follow Jesus are beheaded in front of the entire village. In many places, Christians are not allowed to own land or hold jobs, except as slave labor to wealthy men of the dominant religion. So-called “blasphemy” laws, instead of protecting a vulnerable religious tradition, most often are used as a club to steal the property of Christians or settle grudges against them.
None of this is surprising. Ignorance and false teaching are widespread, and prejudice is actively promoted in many houses of “worship.” Jesus told his followers they would be hated by everyone. But even the thin gruel of a statement like the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognizes every person has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including the freedom to change his religion or belief and to practice it.
Religious discrimination and atrocities of persecution must be vigorously opposed, and followers of Jesus have an obligation to protect and assist brothers and sisters in distress. You can make a difference through organizations like International Justice Mission, International Christian Concern, and Christian Solidarity International.