There has been a "strong" increase in the number of anti-Christian hate crimes taking place across Europe, with particular concern expressed about the treatment of Christians in the UK.
There were 748 cases recorded across 30 European countries in 2022, up from 519 the previous year, according to a new report by the Observatory on Intolerance and Discrimination Against Christian in Europe (OIDAC) published on Thursday.
The figures amount to a 44 per cent increase in anti-Christian hate crimes between 2021 and 2022. Arson attacks on churches saw an even bigger increase in the same period - up from 60 to 105, a rise of 75 per cent.
Arson attacks on churches were most prevalent in Germany, followed by France, Italy and the UK.
In addition to arson attacks, other instances like graffiti, the desecration of Christian places, physical attacks, insults and threats were recorded.
OIDAC said that "more crimes have a clear extremist motivation" than before.
The research group's executive director, Anja Hoffmann, said, "While in the past, the motives behind vandalism or desecration of churches largely remained unclear, we now find that more and more perpetrators leave behind messages, which reveal an extremist motive, or even proudly claim the authorship on social media for the committed crimes.
"These are often radicalised members of ideological, political or religious groups that follow an anti-Christian narrative."
At the same time, "vague" 'hate speech' laws in several European countries, including the UK, are driving the stigmatisation and prosecution of Christians.
Hoffmann singled out the UK for particular concern following the dismissal of Christian teachers Ben Dybowski and Joshua Sutcliffe, and school chaplain Rev Bernard Randall, for sharing their Christian beliefs on issues of sexuality or gender identity. Earlier this year, Sutcliffe was banned by the Teaching Regulation Agency (TRA) for refusing to use a student's preferred pronouns.
"Particularly striking" was the arrest of pro-life volunteer Isabel Vaughan-Spruce for praying silently in her head in an abortion clinic "buffer zone". She was fined again earlier this month despite already being cleared by the courts for similar incidents.
Hoffmann said, "The prosecution of Christians for voicing mainstream religious views in public is a highly problematic restriction of religious freedom
"Certain 'hate speech' legislation in several countries in Europe uses very vague language or lacks a clear definition altogether.
"In our legal analysis we found that the criminalisation of the expression of Christian doctrine on controversial issues was one of the main reasons why Christians were stigmatised and prosecuted."
She added, "When Christians are forced to choose between their moral values and their professions, society will face a difficult future."
The OIDAC report was released on the International Day for Tolerance and coincided with a separate report into hate crimes published on the same day by the Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe (OSCE). According to this report, there were 792 anti-Christian hate crimes in 2022.
Responding to OIDAC's findings, Professor Regina Polak, OSCE Representative on Combting Racism, Xenophobia, and Discrimination, called on governments to do more to address the problem.
She said: "The increasing number of anti-Christian hate crimes in Europe reported by OIDAC is deeply worrying. It is highly necessary to raise both the governmental and societal awareness for this problem and undertake political measures to tackle and combat it decidedly."