EDITORIAL: Death for being a Christian

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A 15-year-old Egyptian girl, Dina el-Gohary, has written an emotional appeal to President Obama asking him to use his influence to save her father, Maher el-Gohary, who is being persecuted for his beliefs. “Mr. President Obama, we are a minority in Egypt,” Dina writes, according to a report from the Assyrian International News Agency. “We are treated very badly. … We are imprisoned in our own home because Muslim clerics called for the murder of my father, and now the Government has set for us a new prison, we are imprisoned in our own country.”

Dina and her father are Christian converts in a part of the world where conversion can mean death.

The Muslim-majority countries of the Middle East are among the world’s greatest offenders against freedom of conscience. Religious liberty does not exist or is severely curtailed based on Shariah supremacy. Egypt is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which commits signatories to respect a variety of liberties, including religious freedom, but a court considering whether Mr. el-Gohary could legally change his religious affiliation ruled that Egypt was only bound to honor those provisions that did not contradict Islamic law, and “in the event of a contradiction, Shariah takes precedence.”

Egypt’s Constitution guarantees freedom of belief but not freedom of religious practice. The same court stated that faith is “an internal, personal matter,” but the right to actually practice a religion other than Islam “is subject to restrictions that may be imposed through regulations that emphasize certain higher interests, especially those related to safeguarding public order and moral values and to protecting the rights and freedoms of others.” Because Muslims would take offense at Mr. el-Gohary becoming a Christian, their indignation outweighs his right to choose his faith. The state thinks that changing the religious affiliation on his identity card from Muslim to Christian is “a threat to societal order.”

The court further insulted Mr. el-Gohary by claiming he could not even prove he was a Christian. Documentation supplied by the Coptic Christian Church was tossed because the court said the church had no legal authority to recognize conversions and that Mr. el-Gohary was “toying with religion.”

Mr. el-Gohary has had several death-sentence fatwahs issued against him, has been forced to live in hiding and has been banned from leaving the country. His case actually is one of the more benign. Former Afghan citizen Abdul Rahman converted to Christianity and was arrested and threatened with death but managed to flee to asylum in Italy. In August, during an anti-Christian riot in Pakistan, eight people were burned to death and two others were fatally shot.

“You said that the Muslim minority in America are treated very well,” Dina el-Gohary wrote to Mr. Obama, “so why are we not treated here likewise?”

The U.S. government is well aware of Mr. el-Gohary’s plight. The State Department’s 2009 International Religious Freedom Report covers his case in detail. We urge Mr. Obama to review this report. He has gone out of his way to curry favor with Muslims at home and abroad, but the president seems unwilling to address this difficult issue. We have heard him apologize extensively for American actions abroad, but when it comes to religious liberties, the United States is not the country with the problem.

For his part, Mr. el-Gohary is adamant that he will remain a Christian regardless of the oppression he faces. He said he and his daughter would not revert to being Muslims “even if we have to live on the streets. We love our Lord Jesus, and we have left Islam for good.”

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