“Reason recognises that religious freedom is a fundamental right of man, reflecting his highest dignity.” Pope Francis
International Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) has published a document whose findings reveal the full extent to which that “fundamental right of man” cited by the Pope is being compromised across the world.
‘Religious Freedom in the World – 2014’, which was launched in the House of Lords in November, finds that “Christians remain the most persecuted religious minority, due partly to their wide geographic spread and high relative numbers. However, Muslims are also experiencing a serious degree of persecution and discrimination, both at the hands of other Muslims and from authoritarian governments.”
As a full report it is only accessible online (in different language versions at www.religion-freedom-report.org), yet the condensed ‘Religious Freedom in the World – 2014 Executive Summary’ is available to download for free as a PDF: http://religion-freedom-report.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/executive_summary.pdf
The Executive Summary explains that of the 196 countries in the world, a total of 81 – or 41% – are identified as places where religious freedom is either impaired or in decline. “The necessity for all religious leaders to loudly proclaim their opposition to religiously inspired violence, and to reaffirm their support for religious tolerance, is becoming ever more urgent.”
To compile the report, the overall state of religious freedom worldwide was assessed between October 2012 and June 2014, with the levels of discrimination or persecution facing faith groups in each individual country rated as ‘high’, ‘medium’, ‘of concern’ or ‘low’.
The Summary lists a number of ‘at-a-glance’ findings, which are followed by a more in-depth appraisal of the global situation. “In almost 30% of the countries analysed, covering the period October 2012 and June 2014, the position of religious faith communities had either ‘significantly deteriorated’ or ‘deteriorated’. We have also identified 26 countries where restrictions on religious freedom are already ‘high’ or ‘medium’ but where no change has been noted in the past two years.”
One noteworthy concern is the role of social media, which causes fundamentalism and religious hatred to be “felt far beyond geographical boundaries. Extremism, popularised through Facebook, Twitter, chat rooms and other social media, is such that religious hatred preached in a distant country is quickly of local concern.”
Case studies are also made regarding examples of persecution in North Korea, Iran, Nigeria, Burma/Myanmar, Belgium, Bahrain, Pakistan, Sudan, China (Tibet) and the Central African Republic.
In his foreword to the document, former Pakistani government minister Dr Paul Jacob Bhatti writes: “I am so grateful to Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) for undertaking this important task of assessing situations of religious freedom around the world. Nobody should have to suffer physical violence and psychological intimidation for declaring what they hold dear and adhere to.”
Aid to the Church in Need, supporting Christians wherever they are oppressed or in pastoral need, became a pontifical foundation of the Catholic Church in 2012, having been founded in 1947.
The Prayer Vigil for Religious Freedom at the Metropolitan Cathedral on 6 February was organised by ACN, as one of a series of 18 vigils being staged across north-west England prior to Easter, to mark the publication of the report.