New report warns of ‘intensifying intolerance towards Christians in the West’

“It is shocking to see Western countries — the same ones we think of as free and open societies — take authoritarian measures against Christians simply trying to live out their faith.”

So says Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, whose Center for Religious Liberty has just published its 2024 report on the state of religious freedom in the West.

Titled “Free to Believe?: The Intensifying Intolerance Towards Christians in the West”, the report — which the authors note is “far from exhaustive” — documents 168 incidents across 16 countries, all of which have taken place since the start of 2020.

“In the United Kingdom, Christians are being arrested for silently praying in their own heads outside of abortion facilities. In Germany, we see crackdowns on alternative faith-based forms of education. In the United States, Christian teachers and coaches are being fired for their beliefs about human sexuality, and Christians can no longer assume that their place of worship will not be targeted with violent action,” Perkins summarises.

“This report is a warning call.”

Alarmingly, the focus of the report was “government officials and entities targeting Christian churches, organizations, and individuals for prosecution or punishment based on their religious beliefs”. In other words, all 168 documented incidents were perpetrated by the governments of once-Christian, and supposedly still free, nations.

The report provides a shorthand summary of each incident, grouped by the country in which it occurred. Researchers compiled their data by analysing open-source documents, reports and media outlets.

Out of the four years examined by researchers (2020 to 2023), 2020 had the greatest number of incidents, in part due to Covid-19 restrictions that created new tensions between public health diktats and Christian leaders compelled by Scripture and conscience to continue meeting.

All three incidents relating to Australia fit this description, the most detailed of which concerned a Victorian pastor:

Pastor Paul Furlong of Christian Revival Church in Narre Warren, Victoria, was arrested and fined over 1,500 AUD for holding a worship service in violation of COVID-19 restrictions. Later, in May 2021, Furlong was arrested for violating his bail by announcing he would hold a church gathering despite continued COVID-19 restrictions. During his month-long imprisonment, Furlong was denied bail, and his Bible was confiscated for a week. Although he has since been released, Furlong is banned from social media.

A prayer meeting in Auckland, New Zealand, was likewise shut down by police for exceeding a 10-person gathering limit.

In Canada, where 38 incidents were documented, Covid-19 restrictions were the pretext for the majority of the crackdown, along with state support for transgender ideology that saw religious leaders and laypeople variously arrested and fired for protesting the sexualisation of children.

Among the latter was Canadian pastor Derek Reimer, who was “arrested for breaking orders following his previous arrest, which forbade him from being within 200 meters of any LGBTQ event”.

According to the report, “At the time of both arrests, Reimer was protesting drag queen storytime events at public libraries. He was charged with counts of disturbance, mischief, and six counts of harassment, each incurring fines of up to 10,000 CAD or six months in prison.”

Twelve European nations were represented in the report — with single incidents documented for France, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta and Switzerland; two for Finland; three each in Germany, Norway and Spain; four in Sweden; six in Greece; and a staggering 43 taking place in the United Kingdom.

Accounts from the UK were among of the most chilling, which included an alarming number of people arrested for holding signs, displaying Bible verses or even simply praying silently outside of abortion facilities.



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Incidents that took place in the United States numbered 58 and included a colourful array of events — from a pastor being criminally charged for letting homeless people sleep at his church, to a school counsellor being fired for disagreeing with the district’s preferred pronouns policy, to a principal forcing a third grader to remove a face mask with the words “Jesus loves me”, to a church being denied a building permit in California due to it not contributing to a “street of fun”.

Some incidents were petty, some patronising, others downright pernicious. All are canaries in the coal mine when it comes to religious freedom.

As the report’s authors so aptly summarized: “Western governments — which ought to be the standard bearers for upholding freedom of religion and expression — are undermining the fundamental human right to religious freedom.”

Christians, whose faith teaches them to “turn the other cheek” and that “the meek will inherit the earth”, are low-hanging fruit for governments eager and willing to punish dissent. This may motivate people of other religious persuasions (or none) to ignore the news, get on with life, and hope they will not experience the same fate. Unfortunately, that is not how human rights erosions have played out on the stage of human history. In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

The erosion of religious freedom in the West is also a concerning development for religious minorities fleeing the Global South hoping for reprieve from their own experiences of persecution.

If the West capitulates on this issue, where in the world will anyone from a minority faith be able to flee to?

And, as the Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller famously observed, who will be left to speak up for them?   

Kurt Mahlburg is a writer and author, and an emerging Australian voice on culture and the Christian faith. He has a passion for both the philosophical and the personal, drawing on his background as a graduate architect, a primary school teacher, a missionary, and a young adult pastor.

Image: Bigstock


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  • Steven Meyer
    commented 2024-02-08 14:32:45 +1100

    I would call this: “Pushback against Christian attempts to enshrine their beliefs into legislation and generally interfere in other people’s business.”