BLOG POST: A sobering summer reading list

BLOG POST: A sobering summer reading list

by Erin Rodewald // May 23

PBS launched a summer series this week called The Great American Read — a celebration of reading and a challenge to book lovers to weigh in on their choice for America’s best-loved novel. In the spirit of the PBS project, which showcases great fiction, I offer my own challenge: a summer reading list that highlights the important nonfiction topic of international religious freedom (IRF).

Religious freedom conditions are deteriorating around the world. One need only scan the global headlines to recognize the grave consequences born of a disregard for religious freedom. We read of genocide, ethnic cleansing, rape, imprisonment, enslavement, forced displacement, forced conversions, intimidation, harassment, destruction of property, and marginalization of women and children. Indeed, nearly 80% of the world’s population lives in countries with high or very high levels of restrictions or hostilities associated with religious freedom.

The IRF Summer Reading List features a short selection of books that wrestle with the sobering themes of human dignity, religious persecution, and freedom of conscience. I encourage readers to include one or more of these titles alongside that great American novel this summer.

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ARTICLE: Satellites and sanctions: How the West can support Iran’s faithful

ARTICLE: Satellites and sanctions: How the West can support Iran’s faithful

By Erin Rodewald // April 24, 2018

(This article was originally written for and posted to 21Wilberforce)

In recent days, reports have surfaced that Aziz Majidzadeh, a newly converted Iranian Christian, has been detained at the notorious Evin Prison in Tehran. Aziz had gone missing for several weeks after Iranian security forces raided a Christian workshop he was attending on the outskirts of the Iranian capital. Though he has not been charged, Aziz has been arrested before for “activities related to his faith.” He is not alone.

Since 2010, more than 600 Iranian Christians have been arrested and detained by Iranian authorities. As of late 2016, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom reports approximately 90 Christians remain imprisoned due to their religious beliefs and activities.

“Technically, it’s not illegal to be a Christian in Iran. However, in practical terms, policemen, Revolutionary Guards, judges, and every other authority in the country interpret the law for themselves and aren’t accountable to anyone,” writes Marziyeh Amirizadeh, who was herself imprisoned for 10 months in 2009 before receiving asylum in the U.S. “Though being a Christian [is] not a crime, converting from Islam to another faith and evangelizing on behalf of that faith [are] considered crimes of apostasy and punishable by death.”

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GUEST AUTHOR: Champion of Chinese human rights mourned as religious freedom diminishes under Xi

Wolf and Li

21Wilberforce Distinguished Senior Fellow Frank Wolf and Chinese human rights advocate Dr. Li Baiguang shared an abiding friendship


By Frank R. Wolf, Distinguished Senior Fellow at 21Wilberforce // March 27, 2018

21Wilberforce was shocked and saddened at the sudden death of Chinese human rights defender Dr. Li Baiguang. Dr. Li has been a long-time friend and a stalwart voice for religious freedom in China. His untimely death is shrouded in suspicion.

Dr. Li died shortly after returning home from a visit to the United States in February, where he and a delegation from ChinaAid met with U.S. officials to advocate for human rights and religious freedom in China. The official word is Dr. Li died of liver failure, but many believe the Chinese authorities are responsible.

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BLOG POST: Prayers for the Persecuted Church


Photo Credit: Screen Shot of International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church website

By Erin Rodewald // November 5, 2017

Christian persecution is not a first century phenomenon. For hundreds of millions of Christians worldwide who daily experience verbal harassment, discrimination, imprisonment, displacement, torture, rape and even death, the struggle is real.

According to a newly released report from Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), “the persecution of Christians is today worse than at any time in history. Not only are Christians more persecuted than any other faith group, but ever-increasing numbers are experiencing the very worst forms of persecution.”

It is a timely and fitting occasion then to focus attention on persecuted Christians today, November 5, which marks the 22nd International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church (IDOP).

Persecuted Christians “often suffer in silence and isolation,” says Godfrey Yogarajah, Executive Director of the World Evangelical Alliance, Religious Liberty Commission, which sponsors IDOP each year. In a statement, he adds: “The IDOP has been a source of solidarity and encouragement to persecuted Christians by reminding them that they are part of a larger, global family of believers.”

Christians are by no means the only religious or minority group subject to harsh treatment and religious persecution, and the IDOP does not seek to diminish the real and urgent needs of those groups. It does seek to draw attention, however, to those persecuted for their belief in Christianity, which remains the world’s most oppressed faith community, according to the ACN report. Titled Persecuted and Forgotten?, the report cautions that in some regions, the church is on the verge of extinction as a result of genocide and other crimes against humanity.

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ARTICLE: Slow Fade or Renewal of Spirit?


George W. Bush delivering speech at Spirit of Liberty Forum. Source: George W. Bush Institute.


By Erin Rodewald // October 25, 2017

(This article originally appeared in Providence magazine)

America in the 21st century is experiencing an identity crisis of sorts. The nation seems caught in a cultural maelstrom that is producing a crisis of confidence here at home. Free speech is disputed on college campuses, religious freedom is challenged in the courts, and the press is criticized for fabricating news to drive a particular political agenda. Our civic decency and national discourse have been compromised.

Meanwhile, economic, political, and national security concerns have sparked a renewed appetite among many Americans—private citizens and elected officials alike—to turn a collective gaze inward. An apparent downturn in what was once an enthusiastic embrace of the basic tenets of democracy and open markets may be jeopardizing what has been a robust and longstanding foreign policy engagement.

Is the liberal democratic order that has provided stability, prosperity, and freedom across the globe for the better part of 70 years in peril? Is America witnessing a slow fade of its core values, or is the country at a tipping point that will lead to a renewal of the spirit of liberty? Continue reading

ARTICLE: Can Sam Brownback Elevate Religious Freedom within U.S. Foreign Policy?

ARTICLE: Can Sam Brownback Elevate Religious Freedom within U.S. Foreign Policy?

By Erin Rodewald // October 10, 2017

(This article originally appeared at The Philos Project)

Across the globe, assaults on religious freedom abound. Rohingya Muslims are fleeing brutal ethnic cleansing by the Burmese government. Years of war and genocide at the hands of ISIS have decimated the ancient Christian population in Iraq—from 1.5 million in 2003 to fewer than 250,000 today. Pakistani blasphemy laws threaten the lives and freedom of innocent religious minorities. In China, the government routinely shuts down underground churches. Saudi Arabian textbooks teach school children hate and intolerance toward the “unbeliever,” specifically Christians, Jews, Shiites, Sufis, Sunnis, Hindus, atheists and others.

In the United States of course, freedom of religion is the first freedom, enshrined in the First Amendment of the Constitution and foundational to the very origin and existence of the nation. It follows that religious freedom also would animate U.S. foreign policy—except oftentimes it does not.

“No administration has seen IRF policy as a national security imperative.”

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ARTICLE: On Women’s Equality Day, a Nod to the Dual Importance of Equality and Freedom

ARTICLE: On Women’s Equality Day, a Nod to the Dual Importance of Equality and Freedom

By Erin Rodewald // August 25, 2017

(This article originally appeared in Philos Project)

Tomorrow, August 26, will mark the 44th observance of Women’s Equality Day in the United States. The day commemorates the passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution – which granted women the right to vote – but also calls attention to ongoing disparities and continuing efforts toward full gender equality.

To be sure, the gender gap in this country is real. For example, women earn 80 cents on the dollar compared to their male counterparts. And in 21st century corporate America, only a quarter of CEOs are women.

Still, American women have made important advances in the past 4 1/2 decades, excelling in all aspects of society, including business, academia, politics, athletics, medicine, law, journalism, the arts and the home. Some highlights include:

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