(CP) There were at least 168 incidents of religious freedom violations against Christians in Western countries between January 2020 and December 2023, according to a new report from the Family Research Council's Center for Religious Liberty, which documented cases across 16 countries.
The violations include arrests and fines for public preaching and praying, penalties for expressing biblically informed beliefs, and punitive measures against pastors not adhering to COVID-19 restrictions, which were often more severe for religious institutions than secular ones, says the study, titled "Free to Believe? The Intensifying Intolerance Toward Christians in the West."
Using open-source documents, reports and news from media outlets, the study reveals a concerning trend of government-sanctioned actions against Christian practices and expressions, with at least 58 incidents in the United States, 36 in Canada, 43 in the United Kingdom, and six in Greece. Other countries with similar incidents included France, Switzerland, Spain, Luxembourg, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Latvia, Germany, Malta, Australia and New Zealand.
Tony Perkins, president of FRC and former chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, emphasized the alarming rise in Western hostility toward Christians, noting the authoritarian measures against individuals practicing their faith.
In the U.S., a California teacher, Jessica Tapia, was fired in February 2023 after questioning the district's policy forcing teachers to hide and even lie to parents about students' gender confusion and desire to identify as the opposite sex at school.
In Australia, Pastor Martin Beckett was investigated by police in August 2021 after admitting on a social media livestream that he had conducted a wedding in violation of COVID-19 lockdown restrictions.
In Canada, Pastor Derek Reimer was arrested in March 2023 for breaking orders following his previous arrest, which forbade him from being within 200 meters of any LGBT event. 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 or six months in prison.
The report lists the 168 incidents of religious freedom violations against Christians in the 16 countries.
Arielle Del Turco, the report's author and director of FRC's Center for Religious Liberty, expressed concern over the erosion of religious freedom in Western democracies. Despite a decrease in COVID-19 related incidents after 2020, discrimination against Christians for their beliefs has reportedly increased, Del Turco noted.
The Observatory on Intolerance and Discrimination Against Christians in Europe previously released a report documenting a rise in anti-Christian hate crimes across Europe in 2022, including physical assaults and murders.
The observatory's findings suggested an underreporting of such crimes, attributing it to a lack of media coverage and a chilling effect among victims. New laws regulating speech and religious expression have further infringed upon Christians' freedoms, with specific mention of 'buffer zones' around abortion clinics criminalizing silent prayer, it said.
Legal developments affecting religious freedom include laws that potentially criminalize parents, pastors and teachers for expressing views contrary to prevailing opinions on LGBT issues or discouraging body mutilating trans procedures for religious reasons. The report also touched on the impact of the Ukraine war on religious freedom, noting discrimination against Orthodox Christians and actions by Russian authorities against Christian practices.
Both reports call for improved dialogue between governments, civil society and religious groups to protect religious freedoms. Recommendations include enhancing religious literacy among public officials, ensuring fair media representation of religious views and encouraging Christians to engage respectfully in public discourse to bridge the gap between religion and secular society.