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What a Real War on Religion Looks Like

Vatican correspondent John Allen (of the National Catholic Reporter, NPR, and CNN) is respected for his thoroughly-sourced reporting and scrupulously-fair analysis. If anything, he is occasionally accused by some liberal Catholics of being too sympathetic to Vatican spin. So when he used his latest weekly column to take the American bishops to task over their concern about a “war on religion,” it got my attention.

“Too often lost in the shuffle,” wrote Allen, “is the fact—not a hunch, theory or conjecture, but hard empirical fact—that in a growing number of other places, there’s a decidedly literal war on religion under way. Its victims don’t just lose government contracts or debates over insurance mandates; they’re threatened, beaten, imprisoned and even murdered.”

The bishops do often acknowledge as much in some of their statements about religious liberty, and they dedicated an hour of their recent gathering in Atlantic to the topic of international religious freedom. But a good portion of that hour was spent attacking the Obama administration for not doing enough to protect religious liberty around the globe. And if concern is measured in action and not rhetoric, the bishops’ interest in repression abroad pales in comparison to fights over the contraception mandate. In his column, Allen cited some incidents that took place far away while the US Conference of Catholic Bishops was observing its Fortnight for Freedom here, including:

  • The private home of Pastor Ramgopal, a Pentecostal minister in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, was raided by police allied with Hindu radicals. The pastor was reportedly told, ‘Either you go away and never come back or we’ll arrest you.’ He was released only after signing a statement promising not to lead any more prayer services in the area.
  • A Catholic priest in Vietnam, Fr. J.B. Nguyen Dinh Thuc, was attacked by plainclothes police and thugs reportedly paid $25 a head to raid a missionary chapel in a rural area on July 1. Their aim was to prevent the celebration of a Mass.
  • Abdubannob Ahmedov, a Jehovah’s Witness in Uzbekistan, saw his four-year prison term for “illegal religious activities” extended for another 30 months for alleged violations of prison rules.
  • Yelena Kim, a Baptist in Uzbekistan arrested in late June for “illegally teaching religion,” is now looking at three years behind bars after police raided her home and confiscated Bibles, hymn books and other religious materials.
  • Ghulam Abbas, a mentally disabled man in a region of Punjab under Pakistani control, was thrown into jail July 3 after rumors spread that he had burned some pages from a Quran. Before any investigation or trial could take place, a Muslim extremist mob stormed the jail, dragged Abbas from his cell and burned him alive.

Allen could have noted as well that on July 8, Iranian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani observed his 1,000th day in prison. The pastor was arrested in 2009 for protesting the Iranian government’s decision to force all children to read the Qur’an, and he has been sentenced to death by hanging on apostasy charges. In December 2011, Hillary Clinton called for the “immediate and unconditional” release of Pastor Nadarkhani.

Follow me on Twitter at @SullivanAmy.