- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 8, 2024

Western governments’ persecution of Christians expressing their beliefs on public issues rose by nearly 60% between June and the end of last year, the Family Research Council says.

The council says its second edition of “Free to Believe? The Intensifying Intolerance Toward Christians in the West” is designed to increase awareness of the rising number of government actions against people of faith.

The D.C.-based advocacy group said that in June 2022, it had found 99 incidents in 14 nations, but by December 2023, that total rose to 168 incidents in 16 countries. The United States led the roster, with 58 incidents — followed by the United Kingdom, with 43, and Canada, with 36. 

Western countries such as France, Finland, Germany, Greece, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta, Norway, Spain and Switzerland were in the single digits. Greece was the highest, with six incidents, while France, Latvia, Luxembourg and Switzerland each had one report.

Many of the U.S. incidents involved people, business owners or religious groups objecting to policies on sexuality and gender, the FRC reported. Churches that defied COVID-19 restrictions on gatherings also made up a good portion of the list, including several congregations that were cited even though they had observed pandemic guidelines then in place.

In the United Kingdom, limits on the free speech rights of individuals comprised the bulk of reported incidents during the period. Activists Isabel Vaughn-Spruce, the Rev. Sean Gough and Adam Smith-Connor have been arrested for offering silent prayers near abortion facilities.

In Finland, the ongoing prosecution of lawmaker Päivi Räsänen and Bishop Juhana Pohjola, head of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese, for publishing traditional Christian views on sexuality drew the FRC‘s attention.

“My concern is that governments in the West are feeling far too comfortable to use their strength to use their force, to try to affect what people say, or even what people believe about their religious beliefs,” Arielle Del Turco, director of the group’s Center for Religious Liberty, said in an interview.

“People can vote,” Ms. Del Turco said. “This needs to be a factor when people are voting, it needs to be something that citizens ask about on the campaign trail.”

FRC President Tony Perkins, in introducing the report, expressed concern about the growing trend of such incidents.

“It is shocking to see Western countries — the same ones we think of as free and open societies — take authoritarian measures against Christians simply trying to live out their faith,” wrote Mr. Perkins, a former chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. “Hostility toward Bible-believing Christians is clearly and steadily rising in the West.”

The full text of the FRC report is available online at https://downloads.frc.org/EF/EF22F60.pdf.

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