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KELLNER: Keep victims of persecution in prayers

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ANALYSIS/OPINION:

One of the greatest things about living in the U.S. is the freedom of religion granted under the Constitution's First Amendment. You and I can attend worship services at any church, synagogue, mosque, meeting house, temple or assembly and do so without too much hassle. We can promote our religion — evangelize for it — and we can change our affiliations, again, generally without much interference, and virtually none by the state.

Not every place in the world is as fortunate, as continuing global headlines indicate.

The violent uprising in Egypt, as opponents of the current military-backed regime keep up their protests in the streets, has spilled over onto Coptic and other Christian churches. According to journalist Elizabeth Iskander Monier, writing at the "Egypt Unwrapped" blog of the London-based Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, the Copts "have no cheek left to turn" in the face of persecution.

Copts are targets of Muslim Brotherhood protesters, Ms. Monier writes, because they welcomed the removal of President Mohammed Morsi. In turn, she notes, churches have been burned, and a 10-year-old Coptic girl, Jessica Boulos, was reportedly shot as she left a Coptic church. Ms. Monier notes that these attacks, and others, have largely been ignored by global media outlets that, understandably, are trying to keep up with the overall instability and tumult in Egypt.

According to a transcript of his Martha's Vineyard remarks on the crisis, President Obama noted the situation involving the Copts: "We call on those who are protesting to do so peacefully and condemn the attacks that we've seen by protesters, including on churches," he said.

But Egypt is far from the only place where people of faith are facing serious challenges in just trying to be faithful to their beliefs. Unconfirmed reports from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights say that the Rev. Paolo Dall'Oglio, 58, a Roman Catholic priest who disappeared in a rebel-controlled area of Syria on July 29, was killed by rebels linked to Al Qaeda. The Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement saying the report could not be confirmed.

The fact that Father Dall'Oglio, who has spent much of the past 30 years working to restore an ancient church in Syria, disappeared during the fighting in Syria suggests how dangerous the Syrian situation is for all, but especially those who are part of minority religious groups there.

Also this week, news came out from North Korea concerning Kenneth Bae, an American citizen and missionary sentenced to 15 years in a prison camp. Mr. Bae has been moved to a hospital from the prison camp, where he had been working eight hours a day as a farmhand. During his imprisonment, Mr. Bae, who has other health issues, lost 50 pounds and his condition was such that hospitalization was deemed necessary.

In Seattle, family and friends have organized prayer meetings and petition drives to secure Mr. Bae's release.

Islamist Boko Haram guerrillas in northern Nigeria attacked several villages in Borno state on Aug. 10 and 11, killing 50 people and injuring dozens more, according to journalist Dan Wooding of Assist News Service, which specializes in reporting stories about persecution of Christians worldwide. The ongoing Boko Haram campaign, which previously was directly largely at churches in the region as well as individuals going to or coming from houses of worship, have now expanded to mosques deemed unfriendly to the Boko Haram partisans, he writes.

These reports — and myriad others — underline the extreme challenge many people of faith face around the world. Those who believe in, and support, religious liberty, can help by staying informed, praying and certainly lobbying government leaders here and abroad to respect the most basic of human rights, that of the freedom to adhere to the faith of one's choice, and to share that faith freely.

Email Mark A. Kellner at mkellner@washingtontimes.com.

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