While walking in the mall today I noticed a young man who was wearing a black shirt. Just at the top of the front of the shirt, centered on the shirt, was a red cross. Centered below this crose were the following words:
“This shirt is illegal in 51 countries.”
The back of the shirt had this message:
“I am not ashamed of the Gospel because it is the power of God the salvation of everyone who believes. Romans 1:16”
These words were a mixture of black and white and tossed together into the form of a ragged cross in red. It was really a nice graphic and obviously a reference to countries in which Christianity is illegal or in which expressing the Christian faith might be illegal. For fun, I decided to check this claim out.
To do so I visited “Persecution.org – International Christian Concern, Your Bridge to the Persecuted Church” http://www.persecution.org/awareness/persecuted-countries/
The first thing I noticed is a list of 44 countries on their home page. They invite visitors to “search for a persecuted country or chose from the list below.” The 44 countries is their list below.
Now, I would think that since these 44 countries have been singled out that they must be the worst offenders. If so, then there are only 44 and not 51 countries as the shirt claimed.
I also noted a couple of countries that were listed in which I did not think it would be illegal to wear the shirt that the young man was wearing, so, of course, I decided to investigate these countries. The first was India.
This website really did not give me any specifics on laws in India that prohibit Christianity. So, I went to the United States Department of State “2010 Report on International Religious Freedom” for more information:
From that website I pulled this up:
“There are active “anticonversion” laws in six of the 28 states: Gujarat, Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Arunachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Himachal Pradesh. In August 2009 the regulations needed for enforcement of the Arunachal Pradesh’s laws were adopted. Gujarat has a Freedom of Religion Act (2003) and Rules (2008) which proscribed religious conversions by means of allurement, force, or fraud. At the end of the reporting period, no court date had been set for the challenge by civic groups of the constitutional validity of the 2003 act and 2008 rules. There were reports of arrests but no convictions under these laws during the reporting period.”
From my reading of this I gather that nationally this t shirt would NOT be illegal. However in six of the 28 states of India this shirt might indeed be illegal. I also note that while there have been arrests there have been no convictions. I further note that these laws are being challenged.
To my mind using less than 1/4th of a country to claim that the whole country would ban this shirt is stretching the truth a bit – if indeed India is counted as one of the 51 countries. This is especially true since at the national level they do not promote these anti-conversion laws. Again from the State Department website:
“The national government, led by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), continued to implement an inclusive and secular platform that included respect for the right to religious freedom. Despite the national government’s rejection of Hindutva (Hindu nationalism), a few state and local governments continued to be influenced by Hindutva.
The law generally provided remedy for violations of religious freedom, however, due to a lack of sufficient trained police and corruption, the law was not always enforced rigorously or effectively in some cases pertaining to religiously oriented violence. Legal protections existed to cover discrimination or persecution by private actors.”
“While there were no reports accusing the national government of committing abuses of religious freedom, human rights activists criticized it for alleged inaction regarding abuses committed by state and local authorities and private citizens. Law enforcement and prosecution continued to be weak. This shortcoming was exacerbated by a low police to population ratio, corruption, and an overburdened and antiquated court system.”
Let me also mention that there is a difference between violent acts between different religious groups and a religious group being made illegal. There is a great deal of violence in India between Hindus, Muslims, and Christians. However, legally, it appears that this shirt would be perfectly legal in over 75% of India, and might become so over all of India as the legal and enforcement situation continues to work itself out.
Now, let us look at another country on that list – Turkey.
This is from the Persecuation.org website:
“Government: The constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice. But it also imposes certain restrictions on some religious groups.”
This is what the 2010 Report on International Freedom had to say:
“The government generally respected religious freedom in practice. There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom by the government during the reporting period. The government continued to impose limitations on Muslim and other religious groups and significant restrictions on Muslim religious expression in government offices and state-run institutions, including universities, for the stated reason of preserving the “secular state.” However, in state buildings, including universities, there are often mescits (small mosques), in which Muslims may pray.”
“Religious minorities reported difficulties opening, maintaining, and operating houses of worship. Under the law religious services may take place only in designated places of worship. Municipal codes mandated that only the government can designate a place of worship, and if a religion has no legal standing in the country, it cannot register a site. Non-Muslim religious services, especially for religious groups that did not own property recognized by the GDF, often took place on diplomatic property or in private apartments. While police and prosecutors did not take steps to prevent or prosecute such gatherings, landlords were hesitant to rent to groups without confirmation that they would not be harassed by the police.
There were reports that local officials harassed persons who converted from Islam to another religion when they sought to amend their identity cards. Some non-Muslims maintained that listing religious affiliation on the cards exposed them to discrimination and harassment.
Members of non-Muslim religious communities were exempted legally from compulsory religious and moral instruction in primary and secondary schools. The government claimed that the compulsory instruction covered the range of world religions, but religious groups asserted that the courses reflect Hanafi Sunni Islamic doctrine. A few groups, such as Protestants and Syriac Orthodox, faced difficulty obtaining exemptions from the compulsory instruction, particularly if their identification cards did not list a religion other than Islam.”
“No law explicitly prohibited religious speech or religious conversions; nevertheless, many prosecutors and police regarded religious speech and religious activism with suspicion. Christians and Baha’is engaging in religious advocacy were occasionally threatened or pressured by government and state officials. For example, Protestants distributing Bibles at a book fair in Kayseri in November 2009 reportedly faced pressure from local politicians to withdraw from the book fair and not to return in the future. If the advocates were foreigners, they were at times deported but generally were able to reenter the country. Antimissionary rhetoric remained in compulsory school textbooks, and police officers occasionally reported students who met with Christian missionaries to their families or to university authorities.
Religious groups generally faced administrative challenges when employing foreign religious personnel because there is no visa category for religious workers.”
What I take from all of the above is that, while religious minorities do face discrimination and challenges in Turkey to say that Turkey – if indeed Turkey is one of the 51 countries referred to by the shirt – this shirt would be illegal is stretching the truth to the breaking point – the same as it would be if India were counted in this category.
What is interesting here is that while there are instances of discrimination and actions taken against religious minorities there are also many actions taken against those who are Muslim and either follow a more radical and fundamentalist brand of Islam or who advocate a religious instead of a secular government.
One country not on the list that I thought might deserve a mention was Israel. From the 2010 Report on Religious Fredom:
“Proselytizing is legal in the country and missionaries of all religious groups are allowed to proselytize all citizens; however, a 1977 law prohibits any person from offering material benefits as an inducement to conversion. It was also illegal to convert persons under 18 years of age unless one parent were an adherent of the religious group seeking to convert the minor. Despite the legality of proselytism, the government has taken a number of steps that encouraged the perception that proselytizing is against government policy. For example, the MOI has detained individuals suspected of being “missionaries,” and required of such persons bail and a pledge to abstain from missionary activity, in addition to refusing them entry into the country. It maintained denunciations of such activity from antimissionary groups like Yad L’Achim in its border control databases. The MOI has also cited proselytism as a reason to deny student, work, and religious visa extensions, as well as to deny permanent residency petitions. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) promised the Knesset in 1986 to refrain from all proselytism voluntarily in conjunction with receiving a building permit for its Jerusalem Center following protests from the Orthodox community.”
“Government policy contributed to the generally free practice of religion, although government discrimination against non-Jews and non-Orthodox streams of Judaism continued.”
“While proselytism is officially legal, some missionaries continued to face harassment and discrimination from some local government officials.”
Another country not on the list is Greece, which not only has laws banning proselytizing, but its constitution does the same. Doesn’t matter who is doing the proselytizing, it is illegal, period. Greece is one country in which that shirt may be illegal.
To keep this blog from further spiraling out of control in regards to length, let me just say that I could not find any support for this shirt’s claim that it would be illegal to wear it in 51 countries. The best I could find was for 44 countries and even then some of those could be disputed while some other countries appear to have been left off.
What this really speaks to though is the desire of many Christians to view themselves as persecuted. While they are in many countries I find it ironic that the ones in my country, the United States, wish to think of themselves as part of the persecuted church.
They wish to elevate the loss of their religious privileges – which are forbidden by the United States Constitution – to the loss of their religious rights – which is very much protected by the Constitution.
They wish to elevate their inability to impose their prayers on students in the public schools to being beaten in the streets and arrested for practicing their faith. They wish to elevate their inability to change the teaching of science in public schools to not being allowed to build a church without fear of having it burned to the ground.
This all in a country in which a Christian church seems to spring up every four or five blocks; in which every newspaper has a favorable story explicitly about Christianity, a Christian church or a Christian every day; in which there are numerous radio and television stations that play Christian programming 24/7; in which the vast majority of politician proclaim that they are Christian and many of whom seek the endorsement of religious organizations.
Yeah, right, Christians are definitely being persecuted in the United States.
To my mind, while this t shirt might be an attempt to focus awareness of religious persecution in other countries, it is more likely an attempt by an American citizen who is Christian to feel that he too is being bold and brave and facing down his persecutors here in America. If he were really concerned about religious persecution he would broaden his focus on all religious groups instead of trying to pretend that Christianity is the only religion in the world which faces persecution. The fact that he chooses to do so, with questionable facts, only about Christians is evidence of this lack of concern about religious freedom.
Perhaps he should try being an atheist sometime if he really wishes to face some backlash for his beliefs. I have a feeling that atheism is restricted in a great deal more than 51 countries.