The growing threats to religious liberty
As the U.S. bishops' "Fortnight for Freedom" campaign draws closer, I have indeed been noticing a number of instances in which religious freedom has been in danger, or in some cases, completely nonexistent.
Take for example a story I heard on the radio this morning about Tunisia, where people are enjoying more freedom in the wake of the Arab spring, as long as that freedom doesn't include criticizing Islam. Fundamentalist Muslims were recently upset by a TV station airing an animated film that depicted God and they responded by attacking the station's headquarters and setting the station owner's house and cars on fire. The story also notes that two bloggers were each given seven-year prison sentences for comments they wrote on Facebook that were considered blasphemy.
That follows a recent story about Indonesia, where religious minorities suffer severe persecution. Things have gotten violent, as religious groups have clashed in the streets and Christians have been prevented from attending worship services.
Then of course there's Pakistan, where anti-blasphemy laws pose a threat to anyone not practicing Islam. There have been a number of reports of cases (more than 1,400 since 2000) where people have been forced to convert to Islam, with young women being particularly vulnerable.
In India, a Christian group reports being attacked and receiving death threats for their beliefs, but police have refused to do anything to protect them. Then there are the Catholic students in Vietnam who were jailed for peacefully distributing information that criticized the Communist Party. And there are many more examples--in fact, there are entire websites devoted to tracking stories about such violations of religious freedom.
These stories all have several things in common. All happened outside the United States, and none of these threats, thankfully, are being imposed on Catholics here in this country. We're free to defend our beliefs, criticize injustice when our faith calls us to do so, and write whatever we'd like to say about religion and public life on blogs, Facebook, or anywhere else without being arrested and put in prison.
As the Catholic Church in America continues its focus on promoting religious freedom, hopefully the church's leaders will keep in mind their brothers and sisters around the world suffering from severe persecution for their beliefs. Our prayers should be with those who don't even have the liberty to declare a "Fortnight for Freedom" of their own.