by Erin Weist
Many countries are increasingly antagonistic to religious belief and expression. For instance, since 2015 the Chinese government has been expanding control over religion and its adherents. In many provinces certain Christian denominations are illegal, while state-sanctioned churches are allowed to assemble and preach. But even these state-run churches are experiencing a crack-down. One non-profit human rights group described 2016 as “one of the most tyrannical years since the Cultural Revolution.”
One province “target[ed] church crosses for demolition” while another “launched a movement focusing on forcing ‘illegal’ Catholic and Protestant churches to conform to socialist ideals, and authorities arrested and detained church members.” Further accounts note it is illegal to give religious instruction to minors. And while reports of Christian persecution increase they are matched by “the suppression of Tibetan Buddhists and Uyghur Muslims.” Religious persecution is not limited to any one faith.
China’s president spoke at a religious conference earlier this year and pushed the state churches to “merge religious doctrines with Chinese culture, abide by Chinese laws and regulations, and devote themselves to China’s reform and opening up drive and socialist modernization in order to contribute to the realization of the Chinese dream of national rejuvenation.” These ideas of nationalism, reform, modernization, etc. have echoes of growth, civic pride, futurity, but they are empty words devoted to a totalitarian cause. Further specific accounts are made in the above referenced article and more reports here and here.
Likewise, Russia made headlines earlier this year when its’ so-called anti-terrorism law cracked down on non-sanctioned (state-run) churches, including prohibitions on gathering and sharing religion on the internet.
The reason for removing state-run churches are the same reasons shown in in China today. Suppression of free speech and imprisonment for differing viewpoints are the road to totalitarian oppression. Unfortunately many places around the world are experiencing echoes of this behavior, although much more subtly. In Australia, children are being taught “modern” values of sexuality and family definitions, while parents are having their opinions overlooked on the matter. The French government has proposed legislation that would criminalize online sources attempting to discourage women from having abortions. (Their official government website warns women about these so-called deceivers who encourage motherhood and provide information about complications arising from abortion.) Business owners in the U.S. are being forced by court order to attend sensitivity training when expressing differing views on gender identity or marriage. But those buzzwords– sensitivity, equality, tolerance– have lost their meaning, much like the nationalist words employed by Chinese officials. They have become a blanket excuse for totalitarianism.
A truly free society would allows citizens to live with mutual respect, providing honest compromise and meaningful dialogue to come to an understanding. If we lose the ability to respect differences and work together to find solutions that protect individual rights, then we’ve lost our road to freedom.