For the 17th time, the United States State Department has released its annual International Religious Freedom Report. It studies the situation in more than 200 countries and territories, looking for places where religious freedom is violated. It paints a bleak picture.
According to the report, the most troubling aspect is the rise of non-governmental groups, such as the Islamic State. In parts of the Middle East, Africa, and Asia, these organizations often undermine governments who otherwise support religious freedom.
Secretary of State
"Most prominent and most harmful obviously has been the rise of international terrorist groups, such as the Daesh, al-Qaeda, al-Shabab, Boko Haram. And all have been guilty of vicious acts of unprovoked violence. Under their control, captives have been given a choice between conversion, or slavery, or death.”
According to the report, "religious intolerance and hostility, often combined with political, economic and ethnic grievances, frequently led to violence.”
It pointed to northern Nigeria, Pakistan, Burma, Sri Lanka, China, and Iran as particularly dangerous places for Christians. But the situation in Iraq and Syria may be worst of all.
Religious leaders from the region have spoken about how families are torn apart by religious persecution.
IGNACIO JOSÉ III YOUNAN
Patriarch of Antioch of the Syrians
"We have hundreds of people who have been kidnapped by Islamic terrorists. It is a catastrophic phenomenon that has gone on for a long time.”
But the report did contain some optimistic notes. While violence against Coptic Christians persists in Egypt, many of those who carried it out have been prosecuted. The new constitution also provides religious freedom and makes it easier to build churches in the country.
In less populous countries like Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, courts have recently ruled in favor of religious minorities or released some from prison.
Unfortunately, the list of positive developments in the report is much shorter than the list of problems throughout the world.