- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Religious Freedom Day is being celebrated at choice spots around the nation, giving Americans who take such matters for granted a brief moment in time to consider: Not all have it so First Amendment-y free and easy.

In fact, a look at the statistics show most, in fact, don’t have it so free and easy when it comes to worshipping as they please.

“Our research uncovers a shocking increase in the persecution of Christians globally,” said Open Doors UK and Ireland chief executive Henrietta Blyth, in a statement reported by Christian Today. “In China, our figures indicate persecution is the worst it’s been in more than a decade — alarmingly, some church leaders are saying it’s the worst since the Cultural Revolution ended in 1976. Worldwide, our data reveals that 13.9 percent more Christians are experiencing high levels of persecution than last year. That’s 30 million more people.”

Open Doors isn’t the only one saying so.

“In China,” the Guardian blasted in a headline just a few days ago, “they’re closing churches, jailing pastors — and even rewriting scripture.”

This is not an anomaly.

Christianity has been at the top of persecution lists for some time; the world’s second largest religion, Islam, has faced historic hits as well.

“More than a quarter (28%) of countries had ‘high’ or ‘very high’ levels of government restrictions on religion in 2016,” Pew Research Center reported in its ninth annual study on global restrictions on religion, released in June of 2018.

“Overall, the number of countries where various religious groups were harassed either by governments or social groups increased in 2016,” Pew’s report continued.

Christianity topped the list.

Christianity topped the list — as it has over the years, across the board.

In 2007, for example, Christians in 107 countries were harassed or worse, Pew reported; in 2016, that figure stood at 144.

By contrast, the second most persecuted religion, Islam, was subject to harassment or worse in 96 countries in 2007 — in 142 by 2016. And the worst offenders?

Egypt, Russia, India, Indonesia, Turkey, China and India, according to Pew.

Now contrast all that with this: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof …”

Or this, from former President Donald Trump’s proclamation of Religious Freedom Day: “The right to religious freedom is innate to the dignity of every human person and is foundational to the pursuit of truth. The Pilgrims who landed at Plymouth shared an experience common to many of America’s first settlers: they had fled their home countries to escape religious persecution. … Our Nation was founded on the premise that a just government abides by the ‘Laws of Nature and of nature’s God.’”

And it’s easy to see — religious freedom, as experienced American-style, is a very dear, very precious thing. It’s a time to reflect, for sure.

But it’s also a time to fight. Remember: When it comes to freedom, any freedom, including religious freedom, America is only one generation away from losing.

• Cheryl Chumley can be reached at cchumley@washingtontimes.com or on Twitter, @ckchumley.

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