Government Must Press Nations Practicing Religious Persecution

James Beam is a former mayor of Orange

Bipartisan legislation titled “The Freedom from Religious Persecution Act” was introduced in Congress on May 20 by Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.), Rep. Tony P. Hall (D-Ohio) and Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) that deals with the issue of Christian persecution throughout the world.

Like many other Americans, I was unaware of the need for such legislation until I read a recent newsletter from James Dobson of Focus on the Family, which describes a second holocaust occurring in the closing days of this century. I’m speaking of the estimated 160,000 Christians who were martyred in 1996 and countless others who were subjected to unimaginable horror.

To his great credit, Michael Horowitz of the Hudson Institute was among the first to recognize what was happening to Christians. Here is the way he described the current plight during a recent radio program: “Christians have become the targets of opportunity to the thug regimes around the world, and they are many. What’s going on now is monumental, and it’s affecting millions, tens of millions, of people. We’re not talking about discrimination, but persecution of the worst sort: slavery, starvation, murder, looting, burning, torture.” Wolf says there is undeniable evidence now of widespread torture, killing, raping and imprisonment of Christians in China, Morocco, North Korea, Laos, Vietnam, Ethiopia, Cuba and several countries in the former Soviet Union.

Lingering communist regimes, including China, North Korea, Vietnam, Laos and Cuba, took careful note of the role Eastern European churches--especially the Roman Catholic Church--played in the fall of the Soviet empire. They are determined not to allow a repeat of that in their own nations. In China, Christians who do not register their house churches with the government and submit to Communist Party control have become the targets of an extensive campaign of suppression. Protestant and Catholic Christians alike have been arrested, imprisoned and even killed. More Christians are imprisoned in China for their faith than in any other country in the world.


The North Korean government not only has attempted to stamp out Christianity, it has established an official state religion that requires the worship of the nation’s leaders.

Freedom House, the renowned human rights organization, has investigated the persecution of Christians for over 10 years and has documented the abduction and death of more than 1 million Sudanese, mostly Christians and non-Muslims, at the hands of the country’s Islamic fundamentalist government.

In light of this slaughter, an obvious question is: Why haven’t the Clinton administration and Congress done something?

That is an excellent question with a two-pronged answer. It is greed and politics. Corporations desperately want to trade with China and other nations, and they can’t let a little matter like murder and mayhem interfere with those business pursuits. If the president criticizes governments for persecuting people, they might retaliate by closing their markets and hurting our economy. The captains of industry would object and punish the politicians by contributing less money to electoral campaigns.


Tragically, some leaders are willing to play hardball with China on pirated CDs and videotapes, but not on an issue of religious persecution. They are putting money ahead of human life in their international policies, even though they know it is wrong. Thus, our country’s profile as a nation has shifted from the historic stand for freedom and human rights to the pursuit of profit as the ultimate value.

But, what can be done? I’ll let Michael Horowitz answer this question, as spoken on the National Public Radio program “All Things Considered.” He said, “Our model . . . is the campaign against Soviet anti-Semitism. It’s got four principal points. One, it asks the president to speak out publicly on the issue and name what’s going on. . . .The second is to appoint a special advisor for religious persecution who will conduct a top-to-bottom survey of our policies in the Immigration Services and in the State Department, to see whether and to what extent it’s lacking and failing. The next would be to ensure that the State Department human rights reports focus on victims of religious persecution. . . . And the fourth: no foreign aid, no special trade treatment, for those countries that foster or appease persecution of religion minorities. . .”

It isn’t too late to help those who are still alive. Michael Horowitz says we are “so close to victory” because of the powerful influence of the United States--and yet, 400 believers will die today because there is no one to care. Their fate is in the hands of those who represent us. Let them know how you feel.