Before Islamic State (IS) swept across the Nineveh Plains in 2014, driving more than 100,000 Christians into exile in Kurdistan, some 5,000 Syriac-Catholic families made their homes in the town of Qaraqosh. More than half of those families have school-age children, and international agencies have repaired a significant amount of the damage done to schools during the IS occupation. Schools are ready to welcome students to the new academic year. But many of the families’ homes still await repair or rebuilding. To date, only 600 out of the 5,000 families ousted from Qaraqosh have been able to move back into their homes. Father Georges Jahola, who represents the Syriac Catholic church on the Reconstruction Committee said “If their homes are not ready to move back into by the start of the school year, many of the Christians might well decide to go elsewhere, this time leaving Iraq for good.”

The enormous challenge at hand prompted the Catholic charity group Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) to establish a committee comprised of six members, each representing the three main churches whose faithful have roots in the Nineveh Plains: the Syriac-Catholic Church, the Syriac-Orthodox Church and the Chaldean Church, who are joining forces in a historic first. Funds raised by the committee will be distributed according to the needs of each of the particular communities. ACN has funded the repair of close to 160 homes to date. Overall numbers remain dangerously low. For example, in the town of Bartella, just 24 Syriac-Orthodox families have returned to their former homes, while more than 600 families have not been able or willing to move back to that community. 

Bartella was home to 3,400 families before the community was captured by Islamic State, which proceeded to completely destroy 90 of the homes, while another 360 houses suffered severe fire damage and 1,300 residences need various significant repairs. Not that there isn’t optimism and passion on the part of many Christians. Nohe Ishaq Sliman, who just returned to his home in Bartella, said, “This is our city, our life, our history. In Kurdistan, we were confronted with very tough economic conditions; food and rent there are very expensive and I can no longer afford that cost while I have a home that I own here. I urge all families from Bartella to come home again.” He continued, “I have drunk the water from the Tigris and worked here as a farmer. I built this house myself. How can I abandon it?”

Yet close to 13,000 homes across the Nineveh Plains still need to be repaired or rebuilt, not to mention the major work needed throughout the region to restore the water and electricity supply. The Nineveh Reconstruction Committee has carefully assessed damages across the board and estimates that the repair and rebuilding of private homes alone requires some $250 million in funding. In addition, there are close to 350 churches and church properties, schools, convents, cemeteries, that require varying degrees of repair, rebuilding and refurbishing. In addition, there are 140 public properties, primarily schools and several hospitals, that require significant investment to become fully functional again. Meanwhile, some 90,000 Christians are still living in makeshift conditions, such as IDPs (internally displaced persons) in Kurdistan, a state of limbo that has lasted three years. 

ACN alone has spent more than $35 million in humanitarian aid for the IDPs there since the summer of 2014, and that flow of aid must somehow continue until the resettlement of the Nineveh Plains is complete. Beyond the work of reconstruction in the Nineveh Plains, there are significant security concerns. Islamic State may be largely ousted from Iraq, but Sunni-Shi’a tension remains and may burst into renewed violence, putting Christians and other minorities in harm’s way once again. There is also the risk that Baghdad and Kurdistan may clash in the Nineveh Plains if the Kurdish regional government declares its dependence and secedes from Iraq. With the end of summer in sight, schools in the Nineveh Plains beckon families and their children. Iraqi Christians are hoping for a new life marked by peace and stability, but Western powers must make a major contribution to make their aspiration a reality. 

“Christians and other religious minorities count on the Western governments, and the U.S. in particular,” ACN-U.S.A Chairman George Marlin wrote recently in the National Review, “not only to help fund the reconstruction of the Nineveh Plains, but also to use their powers and influence to get both Baghdad and Kurdistan to guarantee the security of all minorities and to ensure their equality of citizenship, including their property rights and freedom of worship.” Failing that, a dark history will repeat itself. “The West must act now,” wrote Marlin. “For if a significant number of Christians do not return to the Nineveh Plains very soon, and the power vacuum persists into 2018, the hopes for an enduring renaissance of Christianity in Iraq may be dashed forever.”

Source: Middle East Concern

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In a time when most of Europe is in the grips of atheism, there is a nation where Christianity seems to not only be holding its own but some say is thriving. Imagine a government that is unabashedly Christian, that thinks Christian values are worth defending; that wants to protect and even nourish the family. Welcome to Hungary. A Christian Nation. Hungary’s constitution is explicitly Christian, and says that marriage is between one man and one woman and that life begins at conception. It even includes the phrase, “God bless the Hungarians.” Hungary’s Faith Church, with 300 branches, is one of the largest Pentecostal churches in Europe, with 70,000 attendees. And the Hungarian government has taken on the role of protecting Christianity. It’s even set up an office to help persecuted Christians worldwide.

When CBN News revealed the story of Sweden’s threat to deport Iranian actress Aideen Strandsson back to certain prison and torture in Islamic Iran, only one nation stepped up and offered her asylum: Hungary. The Hungarian government says, “Taking in persecuted Christians is our moral and constitutional duty.” Hungarian policy analyst Istvan Pocza says Hungary has only returned to its roots as a historic bastion of Christianity, dating back over a thousand years. “Hungary wants to protect the European values; European Christian Jewish values,” he said. Christianity in Hungary has survived almost 200 years of Muslim Ottoman rule and Soviet Communist domination. Secretary of State Zoltan Kovacs told us, “You have to stick to your traditions and legacies. Europe’s legacy is a Christian legacy, not necessarily in a religious form but most definitely in a cultural form.”

And it’s this belief that has Hungary locked in a battle with the European Union over migrants. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Mihaly Orban has accused the European Union of trying to Islamize Europe, and Hungary has infuriated Brussels by building a fence to keep illegal migrants out. Orban has essentially told the European Union to ‘take a hike’ when it comes to open borders. Hungary has seen the terrorism and chaos caused by migration in Western Europe and has said, “not here.” The European Union has even gone to court to force Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic to take in migrants. Mr. Orbanhas accused Brussels of “blackmail.” “Securing the borders to stop illegal migration is indeed a solution, and this is actually the only way to reinstate law and order at the borders of the European Union, and not the other way around,” Kovacs told CBN News.

Kovacs says it matters that most of the migrants trying to enter Hungary are Muslim. And he says Western European nations are paying a heavy price by pretending that Islam doesn’t matter. “We’ve been living with and close to Islam for centuries in the past and we know about it. So, that’s why it does matter who has come in and in what manner people are coming,” Kovacs said. Orban is often portrayed in the western media as a version of Vladimir Putin; an undemocratic strongman. In fact, at an EU summit in 2015, the European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker reportedly greeted Orban with the words, “Hello, dictator.” Hungary is most certainly not a dictatorship. But Orban’s critics accuse him of corruption and using the instruments of government against his political opponents, including the recent billboard campaign against billionaire George Soros.

Tamas Lattmann of the Institute of International Relations told us, “What we see in Hungary today is the shameless use of public money, of tax money to formulate pro-government messages.” Bulcsu Hunyadi of the Political Capital Policy Research and Consulting Institute said, “Since 2008 the Hungarian government headed by Prime Minister Viktor Orban has been continuously weakening the system of checks and balances and weakening democratic institutions.” But Orban, a man who even his critics concede is a skilled politician, doesn’t seem to have a serious political rival, and he will probably remain in power, meaning Hungary’s standoff with the European Union over migrants is likely to escalate. Is also means that Hungary will continue to have a government that thinks Christianity is worth protecting.

Source: CBNNews

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The Nepali parliament passed a Bill on 8 August criminalising religious conversion and the ‘hurting of religious sentiment’. It is expected to become law once the approval of the president has been given. The Bill designed to amend and integrate prevalent laws relating to Criminal Offense was registered in parliament on 15 October 2014 and passed on 8 August 2017. However, there are concerns that these clauses could be used to target religious minorities, as occurred in the Charikot case in June 2016, when eight Nepali Christians were charged with attempting to convert children after sharing a comic book on the story of Jesus. Human rights defenders in Nepal are calling for the Bill to be amended as it restricts freedom of expression and freedom of religion or belief. Religious conversion is also curtailed in Article 26 (3) of Nepal’s constitution, which was used in the Charikot trial.

Kiri Kankhwende, Senior Press Officer at Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), said: “We are deeply concerned that if this Bill becomes law, we will see more cases like Charikot and further restrictions on the right to freedom of religion or belief in Nepal. The lesson from India is that anti-conversion laws not only restrict the rights of an individual to adopt a religion of their choice, but also put religious minority communities at risk of hostility and violence.” The wording of Clause 158 of section 9 of the Bill, which criminalises the ‘hurting of religious sentiment’, is similar to the blasphemy laws in Pakistan, which make it a criminal offence to insult another’s religion. These laws are poorly defined and widely misused to settle personal scores, to target religious minorities or to further extremist agendas.

Decades of misuse of the blasphemy laws have resulted in a situation where even voicing disagreement with these laws can lead to violence. The provisions of Clause 160 in section 9 of the Bill, which restrict religious conversion, could be invoked against a wide range of legitimate expressions of religion or belief, including the charitable activities of religious groups, or merely speaking about one’s faith, which risk being portrayed as attempts to convert others. Similar anti-conversion laws in force in neighbouring Burma and in six Indian states have been misused to foster social intolerance and violence towards peaceful religious activities, and to falsely accuse religious minorities, especially Muslims and Christians, of forcefully converting others.

On 10 August, Lokmani Dhakal MP of the Janjagaran party of Nepal, requested the removal of the sections criminalising religious conversion and said:  “It seems very clear to me that this country when preparing the civil code has forgotten it is a signatory to international treaties that protect the freedom of religion and human rights, please don’t let it be possible for the world to say of Nepal that we are the kind of nation that on the one hand signs international treaties but when making internal laws and in implementing them, does something else.” Kiri Kankhwende added: “CSW stands with human rights defenders in Nepal in calling for these clauses to be removed from the Bill as they are incompatible with Nepal’s commitment to uphold the rights of freedom of religion or belief and freedom of expression, as a signatory of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”

Source: Christian Solidarity Worldwide

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Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has signed a bill to restrict state funding for abortion insurance. The new law will keep Texans from having to pay for elective abortions through their insurance plans. “As a believer in Texas values I am proud to sign legislation that ensures no Texan is ever required to pay for a procedure that ends the life of an unborn child,” Gov. Abbott said. “This bill prohibits insurance providers from forcing Texas policy holders to subsidize elective abortions. I am grateful to the Texas legislature for getting this bill to my desk, and working to protect innocent life.” HB-214, applies to “elective” abortions and specifically includes an exemption for cases of medical emergency to save the mother’s life. “If you want to buy this coverage, you can buy it,” Republican John Smithee said during the House debate. “This isn’t about who can get an abortion. It is about who is forced to pay for an abortion.”

“Texas must take steps to prohibit taxpayer dollars from subsidizing abortions that are not medically necessary,” Republican Sen. Brandon Creighton said. Gov. Abbott called a special legislative session to focus on the bill, along with another bill to require doctors and health clinics to report abortion complications to the state in greater detail. That second bill passed both state chambers. “Just because abortion is legal does not mean that people who have significant moral concerns with the taking of innocent life, need to pay for it through their health insurance, said Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood director in Texas who now runs And Then There Were None. “Abortion advocates automatically assume the worst with this kind of legislation: that women won’t be able to get abortions when they want them.  Women have access to abortion, but we believe we shouldn’t have to pay for it.”

Testifying for the bill before the Texas Senate committee, state Right to Life director Elizabeth Graham reasoned that abortion is not healthcare. “The definition of healthcare is to make a person well and to encourage health,” Graham explained. “The definition of a successful abortion is the death of an unborn child.” The greatest controversy over the bill centred on exemptions for fetal handicaps and for rape. Democrats unsuccessfully tried to insert the additional exemptions. Democratic Sen. Sylvia Garcia fought for exemptions by charging that the bill amounts to nothing but “rape insurance.” Her exemptions were defeated on a party line 20-10 vote. New York’s Centre for Reproductive Rights (CRR) reached across the nation to criticize the bill. CRR president Nancy Northup complained that abortion in cases of fetal handicap is cost prohibitive for most poor women.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists also came out against the bill, claiming that abortion is “essential” healthcare. The Guttmacher Institute’s Elizabeth Nash said the bill was unnecessary because “most women pay out of pocket already.” At least in part because of pro-life laws, abortions have gone dramatically down in Texas, from more than 82,000 reported in 2006 to just over 54,000 in 2015. Many previous pro-life laws in Texas were overruled by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2016 as having the effect of limiting abortion “access.” Only 10 states have laws keeping taxpayers out of the abortion insurance business.  These states restrict tax funds from paying for abortion insurance in all cases except a mother’s life. All allow any individual to purchase abortion insurance separately.

Source: LifeSiteNews

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Not-for-profit organisations promoting and supporting Australian families could face deregistration if the marriage law is changed, warns the Coalition for Marriage. New Zealand-based family organisation, Family First NZ, was served a notice this week by the national Charities Registration Board that it intends to deregister the organisation in September because Family First’s promotion of its views about marriage and the traditional family “cannot be determined to be for the public benefit in a way previously accepted as charitable”. “The reasons given by the Board for Family First’s deregistration are a clear demonstration of the consequences of redefining marriage. The Board itself has confirmed that advocating for strong, stable, mum and dad families is no longer acceptable as being in the public interest”, Coalition for Marriage spokesman Lyle Shelton said.

The notice from the Charities Registration Board is the culmination of a four-year saga, in which an initial deregistration of Family First was halted by the High Court, who asked the Charities Board to reconsider. “It is disappointing that an organisation that understands the need for strong families and is countering the damaging impact on the community of family breakdown could now be penalised for believing in traditional marriage,” Mr Shelton said. “What is occurring in New Zealand gives Australian charitable organisations a glimpse into what may happen in Australia should marriage be redefined in law. “As we see in New Zealand and other countries where same-sex marriage has been introduced, it does not take long before it impacts on freedom of speech and religion,” Mr Shelton said.

Source: Coalition 4 Marriage

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The North Korean regime continues to persecute anyone practising religion within its borders, according to a new US government study, although reports from within the country suggest that more people are turning to religion. In some cases, the regime’s persecution can be as extreme as imprisonment, torture and even execution, the study claimed. The US State Department released the annual report on global religious freedoms last week, with North Korea singled out for denying its people the “right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion”.  “An estimated 80,000 to 120,000 political prisoners, some imprisoned for religious reasons, were believed to be held in the political prison camp system in remote areas under horrific conditions”, it adds.

Those claims were backed up by a North Korean defector who is now a member of the Seoul-based Worldwide Coalition to Stop Genocide in North Korea. “Officially sanctioned persecution of people for religious reasons is still there and, even stronger than before”, the defector said. But subtle changes are slowly becoming visible, said the defector, who declined to be named as he is active in assisting underground churches operating in the North. “In the past, the people were told to worship the Kim family as their god, but many North Koreans no longer respect Kim Jong-un”, he said. “That means they are looking for something else to sustain their faith. “Even though people know they could be sent to prison, or worse,  they are still choosing to worship, and that means that more cracks are appearing in the regime and the system”, he added.


Source: The UK Telegraph

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