As Pope Francis prepares to deliver his historic address to Congress, it is important for Americans to heed his words about a form of genocide happening in the world. Globally, Christians are being imprisoned, tortured and killed for their faith. In 2013, Christians faced persecution in 102 out of 190 countries. These incidents of persecution are occurring on multiple continents. Global leaders must break their silence and speak out against this genocide.
In Asia, North Korea is the worst offender. According to the 2015 Open Doors’ World Watch List, North Korea is the worst persecutor of Christians in the world. There, Christians are often sent to prison camps for possessing Bibles and are sometimes even executed for their faith. The State Department estimates that 80,000 to 120,000 North Koreans are imprisoned in labor camps, many because of their religious beliefs. In November 2013, 80 North Korean Christians were reportedly executed for possessing Bibles and South Korean religious films.
The Middle East is the hotbed for the Islamic extremism that fuels the genocide of Christians there. American Christian pastor Saeed Abedini has been languishing in a prison cell in Iran for the past 2 years because of his faith. In one Pakistani city, Christian churches have been bombed, killing scores of people. In the same town, a 14-year-old Christian boy was beaten and set on fire simply because he said he was a Christian. Burns now cover more than 55 percent of his body.
In Egypt, over a three-day period in 2013, Coptic Christians experienced the worst attack against their churches in 700 years. Forty Christian churches were destroyed and more than 100 other sites severely damaged. One boy was beaten to death for wearing a cross around his neck. Tens of thousands of Copts have fled the country.
In Libya, the Islamic State captured and beheaded 21 people because they were Christian. When the victims’ families wanted to build a church in their honor, they were beaten by a Muslim mob.
The situation is even worse in Syria. The head of all Franciscans in the Middle East has reported that “of the 4,000 inhabitants of the village of Ghassanieh no more than 10 people remain.” It is not just Assad’s thugs who are killing Christians. Militants expelled 90 percent of the Christians in the City of Homs. Patriarch Gregorios III of Antioch says that out of a population of 1.75 million, 450,000 Syrian Christians have fled their homes in fear.
The story is just as dark in Iraq, where the Christian population has disappeared almost entirely — dropping 90 percent since the Persian Gulf War. The number of churches has declined from 300 in 2003 to just 57 today.
The situation is no better in parts of Africa. In April, the terrorist group al-Shabab attacked a university in Kenya by going door to door to find and execute Christians. The same terrorist group attacked a shopping mall in Kenya in 2013 and took shoppers captive.
History tells us that the persecution of Christians has been going on since Stephen was stoned for his faith in Acts 7. Rogue states such as North Korea, Pakistan and Iran, and terrorist groups like the Islamic State, get their legitimacy and power from imprisoning and killing Christians. As a country, the United States needs to re-examine its relationships with states that persecute or tolerate the persecution of Christians.
Maybe we should withhold funds to these countries until they start protecting instead of arresting Christians. And let’s call groups like the Islamic State what they truly are: radical and dangerous Islamic extremists.
Religious liberty is a basic civil right, a human right and an inalienable right. Since pilgrims came to America to escape religious persecution in their homeland, our nation has stood as a bright beacon to the world for religious freedom for all faiths — Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Christians and others.
We cannot sit idly by while Christians worldwide are beaten, beheaded and brutalized for their faith. We must be that beacon that shines in proud protection of religious freedom for all.
• Rep. Ted Poe is a Republican who represents Texas’ 2nd District in the U.S. House of Representatives.