This Easter, rising religious persecution demands Biden’s action
Easter is the most sacred day in Christian faith. But for many Christians around the world, it’s also one of the most dangerous.
According to international data collected by the organization I lead, Open Doors USA, an average of 13 Christians are murdered for their faith every day. More than 340 million Christians worldwide experience high levels of persecution and discrimination solely because of their religious beliefs.
President Biden has claimed repeatedly to be a strong supporter of international religious liberty. Just days into his term, the president declared “ensuring freedom of religion remains more important than ever.” He vowed to fight faith-based discrimination, hatred and violence, “to ensure that no one feels afraid to attend a religious service, school or community center, or walk down the street wearing the symbols of their faith.”
Easter Sunday marks 78 days since the president made his declaration. But persecuted Christians and other religious minorities are still waiting for him to turn his words into diplomatic action.
Meanwhile, Christians in America enjoy relative safety while our government maintains close, and even warm, relationships with some of the worst offenders — China, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, India and others.
In the Middle East, extremist militias in Yemen have attacked, tortured and even killed Christians and Muslims alike. President Biden has emboldened Iran by removing the Houthi terror designation, enabling them to attack religious minorities with impunity. And the president has sent a clear message to Saudi Arabia that human rights abuses evidently will be tolerated.
While Nigeria holds the world’s highest rate of martyrdom by extremist violence, President Biden has yet to address the nation’s leadership since taking office. And while India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his party work to eradicate religious dissidents from the country, President Biden prioritized economic initiatives during his March summit with Modi.
While China detains an estimated 1 million Uyghur Muslims in “re-education camps,” Biden soft-pedaled with Chinese leader Xi Jinping on cultural “norms” surrounding this critical violation of human rights. Though the administration’s recent declaration of genocide is a positive first step, tangible deterrents and sanctions must follow to loosen China’s hold.
All around the globe, many Christians in U.S.-allied countries will be forced to celebrate Easter in secret. This cannot stand. While the Biden administration faces numerous challenges, there are many simple but substantive steps they should take right now to make good on their promise to prioritize religious freedom.
The president can start by appointing key State Department officials to directly oversee the crisis. The Trump administration appointed Sam Brownback, former senator and governor, as Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom. President Biden has failed thus far to fill this vacancy. Having a dedicated, knowledgeable leader singularly devoted to this important issue at such a critical time is imperative.
America needs a special envoy to respond to the genocide against Christian minorities at the hands of Boko Haram and Fulani militant terrorists in Nigeria. This office would help to focus and coordinate the power of United States foreign policy on human rights issues. Establishing this post would be a clear sign that religious freedom matters to the president as much as he says it does.
There’s also the matter of at-risk religious refugees. Under the Trump administration, America witnessed an alarming 90 percent reduction of Christian refugee resettlement from countries with high levels of persecution. President Biden must reinstate the United States’ long-held commitment to asylum-seekers by raising the admissions ceiling. We must meet the ever-rising needs of oppressed people who are desperately seeking shelter from persecution, religious and otherwise.
In early January, I was privileged to meet with members of the Biden transition team and foreign policy advisers. Though they underscored the promises made publicly by President Biden himself, I’m well aware of the historical fragility of political promises. They are as easily broken as they are made.
But religious freedom is not a partisan issue. Religious freedom, at its core, is a call for equality, of tolerance and acceptance for all people of faith, no matter how or whether they choose to believe. Without multinational leadership committed to advocating for religious freedom, the condition of persecuted groups is not likely to improve anytime soon.
This Easter, President Biden should fulfill his promises by renewing America’s commitment to religious freedom and making it an essential fixture in our diplomatic relations.