At least 25 Coptic Christians were killed on 26 May with as many injured after a gunman opened fire on them as they travelled to a monastery to pray. Like many others, these Christians were targeted for what they believed, by those who would deny anyone the right to follow their conscience and choose their faith.
Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights sets out the right to freedom of religion or belief:
“Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”
This is a wide-ranging and essential set of freedoms. Throughout our history, the Evangelical Alliance has championed this right for all around the world. As we’ve said before, it’s at the core of our commitment to freedom.
And yet such freedom is a rare sight around the world today. According to the Pew Research Center in 2015, 79 per cent of the world’s population live in countries with high or very high levels of restriction and hostility to at least one faith.
When we think of such restrictions, we often imagine oppressive laws passed by a totalitarian and violent state – think North Korea. But while that is certainly one form of persecution, it is not the only kind. For example:
- Violence is a common form of persecution, but so is prejudice and discrimination against religious minorities. This can be expressed for example in bans from certain jobs, economic marginalisation or discrimination in the education system.
- Sometimes persecution is state-backed; at other times it is done by a terrorist group, by criminal gangs, or even by someone’s own family.
- Some states ban a particular faith completely. However, restrictions often take the form of specific bans on converting, proselytising, or publically manifesting one’s faith.
- While some totalitarian regimes restrict most or all religions, many other states reserve persecution for one religion, or even for a subgroup of one religion or belief system.
So the assault on people’s religious freedom around the world takes many forms. For more about what the persecution of Christians looks like in different countries, have a look at some of our member organisations doing work in this area.
It’s vital that our country seeks to uphold freedom of religion or belief around the world. This is something which the three largest parties picked up in their manifestos. The Conservatives pledged to expand global efforts to counter violence against people because of their faith. Both Labour and Liberal Democrat manifestos also pledged to appoint an ambassador who would champion freedom of religion or belief around the world.
However, religious freedom is not just important for parties and governments. On this issue – more indeed than many others – the MP you send to parliament matters as much as the person we collectively send to Number 10.
Why is this? When this right is violated overseas, it is committed MPs of all parties who ensure that this cannot be ignored by the government of the day. They ask questions of ministers, and hold debates to assess our response to violations of human rights. Time and again it has been these questions and debates which push the government to raise concerns about persecution, through our embassies around the world.
So if you want to use your vote to support persecuted Christians, don’t just vote for a party. Instead, choose a candidate who has the courage to take this issue to Parliament and refuse to see it ignored.
The Christian charity Open Doors is encouraging all candidates to make a commitment to religious freedom at this election. Their website has a feature allowing you to email your candidates and ask them to support the persecuted Church. Open Doors also has some great hustings questions for candidates as does Christian Solidarity Worldwide.
Finally, one specific thing you can ask your candidates to do is to join the All Party Parliamentary Group on Freedom of Religion or Belief. All Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs) are groups of MPs and members of the House of Lords who are interested in a particular issue. The APPG on Freedom of Religion or Belief has been very effective in getting MPs and Peers of all parties speaking out about persecution. Why not ask your candidates if they will join this group?