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May 9, 2017

Wilberforce A!ert: Global Persecution Rises for First Time in Three Years

Global persecution is getting worse according to two recent reports. The first is from the highly-respected Pew Research Center, which shows for the first time in three years that global religious persecution is rising. The second is from the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), which concludes that overall persecution is worsening around the world.

The Pew report uses the latest available data from 2015. Researchers analyzed 198 countries and found that 105 (or 53%) had governments that harassed religious groups. This is a significant increase from 85 countries in 2014. Actual government restrictions also increased; those with high or very high restrictions rose from 47 to 50. The number that have high or very high social hostilities increased from 45 to 53 nations.

The USCIRF report recommends the State Department place 29 nations on its Countries of Particular Concern list. That is two more than last year. Thomas Reese, S.J., the chair of the commission, has said, “The state of affairs for international religious freedom is worsening in both the depth and breadth of violations.”

These are big problems, but what are the impacts? The violence and intimidation affect daily lives. In Nigeria, it means Boko Haram forces farmers off their land, kills Christians and non-compliant Muslims, and destroys churches and communities. The UN says 75,000 children will die this year from famine there.

In China, the Communist Party restricts Christians, Uyghur Muslims, and Tibet’s Buddhists. Uyghur’s are now barred from naming their children “overly religious” names.

And in Iraq, Yezidis, Christians, and others are still unable to reestablish their lives as ISIS is pushed out.

And these are just three examples. Action is needed. More organizations and individuals need to stand up and say: enough.

One example of taking a strong stand is the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s World Summit this week focused on Christian persecution. I am honored to join this important gathering, and look forward to doing our part to wake up Western churches and governments to seek consensus on policies.

There are two particular policies that I think are vital. The first is the swift appointment of a qualified Ambassador at Large of International Religious Freedom. 21CWI collected 715 signatures on a letter to President Trump, and other organizations joined the cause calling for their stakeholders to do the same. We renew that call today for such an appointment.

Secondly, all around the world repressive regimes block free access to the Internet. There are proven software tools that can circumvent these firewalls, but there is not enough hardware capacity in the U.S. to meet demand. The Broadcasting Board of Governors, a federal agency that spreads freedom through information around the world, should increase its budget for Internet firewall circumvention.

With the rising crisis, there is not a moment to lose. You can take action today. We need you to engage your neighbors, churches, and political leaders. We have the tools for you to do that, to be both an educator and an advocate for the sake of those crying out in persecution.


1)     Read the Pew Report highlights and the USCIRF report overview.

2)     Download our Nigeria Church Action Pack and share it with your pastor to see if it can be used to help your congregation learn about the immense challenges there.

3)     Download and share our China Fact Sheet

Keywords: China,Nigeria,Boko Haram,Pew,Pew Research,USCIRF,religious persecution,IRF,21st Century Wilberforce Initiative,21 Century Wilberforce Initiative,21 Wilberforce,21CWI

Frank R. Wolf

Congressman Frank R. Wolf is Distinguished Senior Fellow of the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative. He was elected to Congress in 1981 and served Virginia’s 10th District for 17 terms. Wolf authored the International Religious Freedom Act and legislation to create a U.S. State Department special envoy to advocate for religious minorities in the Near East and South Central Asia. The Founder and Co-chair of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, Wolf’s honors include the 2015 Wilson Chair in Religious Freedom at Baylor University, the Presidential Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Human Rights, and the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview’s William Wilberforce Award.

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