ARTICLE: Coptic Christians shut out of worship

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Egypt’s Coptic Christians are finding it harder to worship despite constitutional guarantees [Photo Credit: Reuters/Middle East Eye]

By Erin Rodewald // September 11, 2018

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

In Egypt, a law designed to open doors has served to close them instead. Dozens of Coptic Christian churches have been shut down since Law 80/2016, also known as the Church Construction Law, took effect two years ago. The reform measure, required as part of the constitution adopted following the ouster of President Mohammed Morsi in 2014, was intended to secure the right of worship by Copts and other religious minorities. Instead, it has become a driver of sectarian violence.

In late August, while congregants worshiped inside the Virgin Mary and St. Mohrael Coptic Orthodox church in Upper Egypt, an angry Muslim mob gathered outside to protest against the legalization of the church. According to an eyewitness, the crowd tried to break down the front door. The police arrived and dispersed the demonstrators then closed the church building, sealed it, and security forces cordoned off the village streets.

This was the eighth such incident in this particular diocese alone. Churches in other regions throughout Egypt have experienced similar attacks as well, several in the past few weeks. All had filed applications under Law 80/2016 to obtain the necessary permits for registration, renovation, or construction. And that’s when the trouble began.

The tensions associated with the current law are underscored in a report issued by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR): “Typically, Copts in villages submit applications for the construction of a church to official bodies after meeting all the required conditions, but the applications are frozen due to objections from the security apparatus or as a result of incitement from local residents opposed to the construction of a church.” Continue reading

ARTICLE: Iran’s Christians caught in the crosshairs

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Four pastors are among several Christians recently imprisoned in Iran for promoting their faith [Photo Credit: World Watch Monitor/Article 18]

 

By Erin Rodewald // August 21, 2018

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

As the 40th anniversary of the Islamic revolution in Iran approaches, there is growing speculation that the aging theocratic regime is on the brink. Since December, tens of thousands of ordinary Iranians have taken to the streets in protest of their government’s hardline policies and failing economic decisions. While the Iran nuclear accord of 2015 infused billions of dollars into Iran’s economy, Tehran’s power elite used that capital to fund foreign adventurism and regional terror rather than help its own citizens.

In May, the U.S. withdrew from the Iran Deal, and last week it reinstated strict sanctions, contributing to the free fall of Iran’s already unstable currency. Even tougher sanctions are on the way in November. Meanwhile, demonstrations across all sectors of Iranian society have grown larger and more insistent, including chants of “death to the dictator.”

“History is in the making in Iran,” writes Dr. Hormoz Shariat, founder of Iran Alive Ministries, a U.S.-based broadcasting network that delivers Christian programming to Iranians via satellite. “We are seeing the end of this regime. I believe we will see a major change in Iran soon and it will be in weeks, months, but not years.” Continue reading

ARTICLE: How many declarations does it take to secure religious freedom?

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U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback speaking on the foundational right of religious freedom

 

By Erin Rodewald // August 6, 2018

Each generation must hold dear the importance of #ReligiousFreedom and reaffirm the need to protect and nurture it, lest tyrants trample it. My views on the Potomac Declaration, which was released last month at the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, appear today in Providence: A Journal of Christianity & American Foreign Policy.  I invite you to read the article here and share it with friends.

ARTICLE: Survivors of persecution breathe new life into religious freedom movement

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Genocide survivor Nadia Murad welcomed by Vice President Pence [Photo credit @NadiaMuradBasee]

By Erin Rodewald // July 31, 2018

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

Nadia Murad had dreams of being a teacher, not a sabia — not a slave. In one horrific August afternoon in 2014, ISIS terrorists invaded her village in Northern Iraq and shattered those dreams. The militants slaughtered hundreds of Nadia’s neighbors in a single hour, including six of her brothers and stepbrothers. She and the other young women who remained were rounded up and sold as slaves to ISIS fighters. Nadia endured months of brutality before escaping her captors.

Nadia is a victim of the devastating Yezidi genocide. She is also a survivor. Last week Vice President Mike Pence recognized her and several other survivors of religious persecution at the first-ever Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in Washington, D.C.

“We are honored by your presence. We are inspired by your courage,” said Pence, speaking directly to Nadia. “The people of the United States are inspired by your testimony and your strength and your faith. And it steels our resolve to stand for your religious liberty in the years ahead.” Continue reading

BLOG POST: U.S. Leadership Puts First Freedom in First Position

 

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U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley delivers remarks to close out the first-ever Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom [Photo Credit: US Holocaust Museum]

By Erin Rodewald // July 27, 2018

Twenty years ago, the U.S. Congress codified religious freedom as a priority for U.S. foreign policy by passing the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA). This week, leadership at the highest levels of U.S. government re-affirmed a commitment to that first freedom, hosting the first-ever Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom.

“The United States of America stands for religious freedom yesterday, today, and always,” said Vice President Mike Pence at the closing session of the Ministerial. “We do this because it is right. But we also do this because religious freedom is in the interest of the peace and security of the world.”

To that end, the Ministerial has issued the Potomac Declaration, an official statement that underscores U.S. commitment to the advancement of religious liberty and the protection of those persecuted for their beliefs. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the Declaration at the conclusion of the Ministerial, saying it “is a formal affirmation that says right up front that the U.S. takes religious freedom seriously, that we will work with others around the world to help those under attack for their beliefs, and that we expect leaders around the world to make it their priority as well.”

Among the principles elevated by the Declaration: Continue reading

BLOG POST: The persecuted cannot wait

By Erin Rodewald || July 24, 2018

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Day One — Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom

It is a humbling moment to stand in a conference hall at the U.S. Department of State, surrounded by representatives of more than 80 nations. The Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom began today, and as reported by Politico, was the hottest ticket in Washington. Hundreds of human rights activists, foreign government officials, religious leaders, and journalists gathered to focus on how best to equip and empower civil society organizations to better address global religious freedom issues.

“This is a noble cause, but also a practical one,” said U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback, in remarks to kick-off the three-day summit. “Where religious freedom is promoted, economic opportunity grows, security increases, and people flourish.”

The day’s events included a panel on how private philanthropic resources can be mobilized to address religious freedom challenges worldwide. Another session provided practical tips for harnessing grant opportunities via the State Department. Hollywood mega-producer Mark Burnett sat down with veteran broadcaster Greta Van Susteren and U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) commissioner Johnnie Moore to talk about how to reach the masses with persuasive messages that both inform and inspire action in support of persecuted communities.

Peppered among the panelists and formalities, however, were the truly compelling stories from survivors of persecution and their families. Continue reading

IRF Ministerial Update: On the margins

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By Erin Rodewald || July 22, 2018

The official start of the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom begins Tuesday, but several important side events convene today. Among them is a panel discussion with leading practitioners and former officials who have been at the heart of the U.S. international religious freedom policy for more than two decades.

The International Religious Freedom Act at 20 and World of Faith and Freedom at 10: What has Changed and What is Changing begins at 4:00 p.m. today in Room G-50 Dirksen Senate Office Building 50.

Featured speakers include: Continue reading