FAITH-BASED PERSECUTION ON THE RISE IN ASIA-PACIFIC
Persecution due to people’s faith has increased over recent years in the Asia-Pacific region, said speakers addressing the first Asia-Pacific Religious Freedom Forum, held in Taiwan. The conference was hosted by former Vice-President of Taiwan Annette Lu. A declaration, presented by the President of US-based Freedom House, Mark P. Lagon, affirmed a “commitment to establish and reinforce networks of advocates dedicated to promoting freedom of religion or belief in their respective countries and in the Asia-Pacific region, including the creation of both governmental and non-governmental mechanisms to promote freedom of religion.” China Aid President Bob Fu, a former Chinese dissident himself, said the declaration was a roadmap “for those who wish for a free world”.
Participants came from 26 countries – including Pakistan, China, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Myanmar – to be part of the forum. They included representatives from charities and international NGOs which focus on freedom of religion, such as Open Doors International, which works with minority Christians worldwide. No one nation or organisation can work alone to fight this rising tide of hatred. So there is need for a greater cooperation among those who want a peaceful world. Faith, hope, charity, love, mercy, liberty, peace and security can help to preserve these people. United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIFR) Commissioner Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett said the event was an “historic, ground-breaking conference”.
Dr Sweet said “No society can build a future without providing freedom of conscience to its people. For this reason, free exercise of religion is the first guaranteed freedom in the United States,” she added. Dutch member of the European Parliament Bastiaan Belder said: “Freedom of faith is an inalienable gift from God to humankind.” The conference heard that the major threat to minorities used to come from intolerant groups, whereas today it tends to come from armies and states. Republican Congressman Chris Smith, addressing the conference via a cyber connection, said that the world was facing an existential threat for people of faith. Christian populations in the Middle East and Muslims in Myanmar are on the run, he said, while anti-Semitism is rising across the world.
Norwegian parliamentarian Abid Raja said religion was a force that could either bring society into order, or disrupt it. “Religion can really bring and sustain peace, but it can bring chaos as well,” he said. “So we need to see what type of future we want to give to our children.” He said parliamentarians can play a vital role, saying “the International Panel of Parliamentarians for Freedom of Religion and Belief is striving to promote peace through religious liberty.” The conference heard that the situation of Pakistan, Indonesia and Malaysia is similar in many ways – countries with constitutions that guarantee human rights, but whose state apparatus is not capable of providing these rights.
In Malaysia, its Chair of the Human Rights Committee, Andrew Khoo, noted that innocent statements of piety enshrined in law become tools of discrimination, oppression and persecution over time. He said “peace” and “harmony” sound like beautiful words, but how they are actually practised is defined by the ruling majority – and not by those to whom they are relevant. Indonesia’s Muhammad Rahmat, of its National Human Rights Commission, noted that the constitution of his country guarantees freedom of religion, but in practice, intolerance exists in Indonesian society. Participants pleaded for attitudinal change rather than lots of fine words. They noted that states often use soft words, but that “hate speech” is still common; that minorities face mass displacement; and religious conflicts are on the rise.
The forum demanded the preservation of religious diversity with universal values of freedom. Pakistani parliamentarian Aasiya Nasir said no society could grow socially and democratically without religious liberties. “Terrorism has become a universal phenomenon and we need to deal with it for our better future. Repressive states will do all they can to sustain themselves. So freedom has to be fought for, and individuals pay the price for it. It also falls to the citizens of free governments to show solidarity with the victims of persecution. Pakistani-born Swedish politician Nasim Malik said that nations of the world have realised the need for peace and stability for development. He said countries in the Asia-Pacific region should realise this for their economic growth and prosperity.
A similar viewpoint was shared by Brian J. Grim, President of the Religious Business Foundation. Grim said that the global economy has become religiously diverse, so protecting religious freedom would strengthen the global economy as well. UK Christian Democrat David Campanale said that states are arbitrarily deciding when there is abuse of law – despite constitutional guarantees. Campanale challenged the idea of a “value-neutral state”, stressing that the rule-of-law in the United Kingdom’s constitution dates to its Christian roots. “The sovereignty of the King was challenged for the first time under the Magna Carta, and he agreed to be subjected to the rule of law. “In the Old Testament we see that the King is under the sovereignty of God; hence, the idea of rule of law and limited government comes from the Bible.”
MALAYSIAN COURT UPHOLDS RIGHT TO CONVERT FROM ISLAM
In a landmark ruling a Malaysian court has upheld the rights of a Christian to convert from Islam. The judgment establishes a precedent in a country where religious conversions, particularly from Islam to Christianity, have been steeped in controversy. The verdict reaffirms the supremacy of the Federal Constitution, which defends every Malaysian citizen’s right to freedom of religion. Rooney Rebit, the plaintiff, was asking judicial authorities to declare that his belief in Jesus Christ was a fundamental human right. The High Court duly agreed. The judge, Yew Ken Jie, said: “He is free to exercise his right of freedom to religion and he chose Christianity.”Rebit was born into a Christian family but his parents converted to Islam when he was eight. In 1999, Rebit embraced Christianity and was baptised.
In her decision, Judge Yew ruled that Rebit had not officially professed Islam, because it was not his choice to embrace the religion. But when he became a Christian at age 24, he was mature enough to make a conscious decision. Conversion cases in Malaysia have been plagued by official dissension and charges of apostasy by Muslim authorities challenging verdicts by secular courts in Sharia tribunals. The most prominent case involved Lina Joy who converted from Islam to Christianity in 1998 at age 26; her application to have her conversion legally recognised was rejected in 2007 after a 6 year legal battle. There have been cases where one parent has converted children to Islam, when the appeals of the other parent, usually the mother, have been brushed aside by Islamic authorities who espouse the supremacy of Islam.
In a country with two parallel legal systems, appeals to secular courts to right such wrongs are inevitably referred to the Sharia authorities, where non-Muslim lawyers are barred from practising. In Rebit’s case the significant difference is that he was not challenging his conversion to Islam; for if he had done so, the case would have had to be judged by the Sharia court – because secular courts have no jurisdiction on Islamic issues. Rebit, in his application, asked that he be officially declared a Christian, and for the Sarawak Islamic Religious Department and Sarawak Islamic Council to release him from the Muslim faith. He also wanted the court to compel the Government’s National Registration Department to change his name and religion on his identity card and its records.
The Islamic religious authorities did not object to issuing a letter releasing him from his faith, but the registration department had insisted on a letter of release and order from the Sharia Court. But Judge Yew ordered the National Registration Department to make the changes to Rebit’s identity card. She held that Rebit’s case raised constitutional issues regarding his right to religious freedom. “He does not need a Sharia court order to release him from Islam, because freedom of religion is his constitutional right.” She added: “His conversion to the Muslim faith was by virtue of his parents’ conversion when he was a minor. Now he is a major, he is free to choose Christianity. The National Registration Department had not acted fairly towards the applicant by insisting on a letter of release and order from the Sharia Court.”
Rebit’s lawyer, Chua Kuan Ching, welcomed the decision and hoped that the National Registration Department would not appeal the judgment. “In previous conversion cases involving minors, the courts did not go far enough to state what happens when the child reaches adulthood. So this is a different decision because the judge is saying that he has the right to religious freedom, according to the Constitution.” The Association of Churches in Sarawak applauded the ruling for protecting the fundamental right to freedom of religion.” They said “We call upon the Federal Government to honour and give effect to the guarantee of religious freedom by upholding the constitutional rights and fundamental liberties accorded by the Federal Constitution to all citizens of Malaysia.”
Sisters in Islam, a civil society group committed to promoting democratic rights within the framework of Islam and universal human rights, also welcomed the decision. Their organisation, which has come under criticism from Islamic authorities for its opposition to attempts to prosecute Muslims for attempting to leave Islam, said the judgment reaffirmed the supremacy of the Federal Constitution. “As such, it is our duty to honour these rights equally and fairly, without regard to race or religion. Where our legal system provides for the right of conversion, it should not be the case that in reality the practice of these rights are denied, or made nearly impossible, to certain religions or races,” it said in a statement.
It also added: “Acting in the interest of our country and its people does not conflict with the principles of Islam as Islam is a religion of compassion and tolerance . Faith cannot be imposed through enforcement. Instead, faith is contingent upon free will. Islam itself means submission to the will of God – not the will of men.” The organisation said the judgment was a reminder to all Malaysians of their right to practise their faith without coercion from the state. The latest ruling offers relief to the beleaguered Christian community, who make up 9% of the 30 million population. They have increasingly felt their faith under attack; in recent years Bibles in the Malay language have been seized, churches and the Catholic Herald newspaper barred from using the word ‘Allah’ to describe God, and places of worship desecrated.
WHY MISSISSIPPI’S PASSAGE OF RELIGIOUS FREEDOM BILL IS SO IMPORTANT
Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant has signed a religious freedom law that will protect people who believe that marriage is between a man and a woman. The Religious Freedom Law will “protect sincerely held religious beliefs and moral convictions of individuals, organizations and private associations from discriminatory action by state government or its political subdivisions, which would include counties, cities, and institutions of higher learning. This bill merely reinforces the rights which currently exist to the exercise of religious freedom as stated in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution,” Gov. Bryant wrote in a message posted on Twitter. Family Research Council President Tony Perkins praised Gov. Bryant “for standing up to the fundamental freedoms of the people they represent.”
“No person should be punished by the government with crippling fines or face disqualification for simply believing what President Obama believed just a few years ago-that marriage is the union of a man and a woman,” Perkins said. Before the Supreme Court decided to redefine marriage President Obama assured the nation that those who opposed same-sex marriage had nothing to fear. He promised us that same sex marriage would have no impact on our lives or our religion. The president’s assurances turned out to be woefully wrong. It has become clear in recent days that such protections are necessary. Militant LGBT activists and their supporters have waged a war on Christian business owners from coast to coast.
They’ve gone after grandmothers like Baronelle Stutzman, the owner of a Washington state flower shop who declined to participate in a homosexual wedding. They’ve tried to silence and intimidate the owners of bakeries in Indiana, Colorado and Oregon. And most recently, the LGBT mob has gone after the owners of the Timbercreek Bed and Breakfast in Paxton, Illinois. Jim and Beth Walder were fined $80,000 because they refused to hold a civil union ceremony for two homosexual men. Thanks to Gov. Bryant, Christian business owners will be free from such bullying and intimidation. The governor should be commended for his courage. He signed the legislation under the threat of an economic boycott. Hollywood and Big Business are threatening to punish any states that defend the rights of Christians.
Some of the most anti-Christian companies are Disney, Coca-Cola, and the National Football League. “Big business and Hollywood have engaged in economic blackmail in Mississippi just like they have in Indiana, Georgia, North Carolina and Texas to try to force government discrimination of those who support natural marriage,” said Perkins. The threat is real. Oscar-winning composer Stephen Schwartz has announced he will ban North Carolina theatres from performing his works. His decision comes after the state banned transgender people from using the bathrooms of their choice. Mr. Schwartz seems to believe that any state that refuses to let a man use the bathroom with a little girl should be punished.
POLISH PRIME MINISTER BACKS CALL FOR FULL ABORTION BAN
Support is growing for a law that would ban abortion in Poland, with the Catholic Church and prominent Polish politicians showing support for the legislation. The Polish bishops have published a letter calling for a new abortion bill to fully protect the unborn. The direct reason for this public statement is a proposed law that will end up in Parliament soon after pro-life activists gather 100,000 signatures of support for it. Now Catholic Prime Minister Beata Szydło has also signalled her support for the measure, calling the bishop’s letter a clear call for change. “I think every MP will vote in line with his own conscience,” she told a Polish radio station. “At this stage I can say that yes, I support this initiative.” Szydło, the third female prime minister of Poland, is member of the conservative Law and Justice Party.
Pro-lifers can also count on the backing of another prominent Polish politician, Jarosław Kaczyński, the leader of the Law and Justice Party. Kaczyński said, “I am a Catholic and my position is clear. I predict that the overwhelming majority of my party will vote for it.” “I hope that the politicians will present a united front,” said Jerzy Kwaśniewski, a lawyer who helped draft the bill. “If we want to re-establish order in Poland, we need to start with the most fundamental thing: the protection of human life.” He said that Polish society is highly conscious of the truth about abortion, a fact he attributes to “the shocking street exhibits showing abortion pictures” that the Right to Life Foundation has been showing all over Poland.
According to current Polish law, abortion is illegal except in three circumstances. First, when the woman’s life or health is endangered. Second, when the pregnancy is a result of a criminal act. And finally, when a doctor believes the baby has a severe and irreversible handicap or an incurable and life-threatening disease. The new law gives legal protection to all children from the moment of conception. This would make all abortions illegal in Poland. The focus of the proposed law is not punishing women who do have abortions; it leaves that to the discretion of judges. Instead, it increases punishment for abortionists and people who harm pregnant women and force them to abort by ruse or threat. It also discusses the state’s responsibility in helping parents of handicapped or special-needs children.
TECH GIANT LEAVES NORTH CAROLINA OVER SAME SEX BATHROOMS
North Carolina is paying a high price after striking down Charlotte’s bathroom ordinance bill. PayPal says it is cancelling plans to bring more than 400 jobs and a $3.6 million investment into the city with its new operation centre. The decision comes after North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory signed a bill repealing the transgender bathroom ordinance in Charlotte. People expressed concern over the ordinance, saying it would allow anyone identifying as transgender to use a public facility based on the sex they identify with rather than their biological sex. The risk became that any man, perhaps a sex offender, could enter a woman’s restroom simply by calling himself transgender.
The new law limits the use of bathrooms, locker rooms and showers to persons of the same biological sex. According to PayPal President and CEO Dan Schulman, “The legislation invalidates protections of the rights of lesbian, homosexual, bisexual, and transgender citizens and denies these members of our community equal rights under the law.” Schulman also says the new law promotes discrimination. “I’m going to respect people who disagree with our commonsense rules,” McCrory responded. “This has a real impact on Charlotte and North Carolina families, and I’m urging our legislature to find some kind of legislative remedy as soon as possible,” Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts said. North Carolina’s next step is not yet clear, but PayPal says it will seek an alternative location for their operations centre.
TEMPLE OF BAAL DISPLAY CANCELLED FOR NEW YORK AND LONDON
Plans to build giant arches for the Temple of Baal in New York and London have been cancelled. The Institute for Digital Archaeology (IDA) had planned to build a 48-foot-tall re-recreation of the 2,000-year-old temple entry arch in New York and in London. ISIS destroyed the structure last year in Palmyra, Syria. Instead, they will model the structure after the Arch of Triumph of Palmyra. ‘The IDA’s Arch of Triumph of Palmyra serves as a model for how, together, we will bring life back to Palmyra and restore the site as a message of peace against terrorism,” the Institute states on its website. The entrance arch, to be displayed in London, might move to New York City as an archaeological display. There are no plans to build permanent buildings for Baal worship in either of the two cities.