ROME (CNS) – Violations of religious liberty are increasing around the world, and U.S. citizens have a special responsibility to uphold the religious liberty of all believers in all nations, said Samah Norquist, former Chief Religious Liberty Advisor international with the administrator. of the United States Agency for International Development.
Threats to religious freedom “affect nearly every religious group,” Norquist said during an audience in Rome on July 20. . America’s history began with communities of faith that escaped religious persecution.
Norquist was one of the speakers at the second Notre Dame Religious Freedom Summit July 20-22 at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. The summit was sponsored by the Religious Freedom Initiative at the University of Notre Dame Law School.
G. Marcus Cole, dean of the law school, told attendees that the Second Vatican Council’s declaration on religious liberty, “Dignitatis Humanae,” had been approved by a large majority of bishops at the council, but that it was still controversial.
“The Catholic Church used to use its high political status and power within Christendom to suppress nonconformity,” he said. “‘Dignitatis Humanae’ represented, for some, a revolutionary shift in its approach to religious freedom.”
But, Cole said, whether seen as a change or simply a “clarification of Church doctrine, the protection and defense of religious freedom is now at the heart of the Catholic faith.”
The Dean said that as a Catholic he sees religious freedom as “an essential extension” of Jesus’ call to “go out and make disciples of all nations” because this freedom “is a necessary prerequisite for let anyone choose a faith, including mine.
The Vatican II document taught that religious freedom is a right based on the dignity of each person and that no one should be forced to act in a way contrary to their own beliefs.
After churches and other religious groups faced excessive restrictions at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Cole said, significant victories for religious freedom have been won over the past year, including U.S. Supreme Court rulings allowing a Christian flag to fly at Boston City Hall. ; allowing Maine’s tuition relief funds to go to religious schools; and defending the right of a public school football coach to pray on the field after a game.
But, he said, “much more needs to be done” to end “attacks on religious freedom” in the United States and around the world.
Cole and other conference attendees repeatedly mentioned China’s crackdown on predominantly Muslim Uyghurs, about 1 million of whom were held in internment camps.
Nury Turkel, chairman of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom and a Uyghur American, focused his remarks not just on “China’s ongoing genocide” of its Uyghur population, but on the repression of anything the Chinese government considers as a “foreign religion”, including Catholicism.
The commission, he said, expressed concern about the Chinese government’s “attacks on the Catholic community in mainland China and Hong Kong,” including the detention of prominent Catholics, raids on churches, the slaughter steeple crosses and the confiscation of religious material.
Turkel said the Chinese Communist Party is increasingly using “forced labor” and “slavery” to punish religious believers to force them to abandon their faith, and it is increasingly relying on the cooperation of technology companies to increase surveillance. over all citizens, including control of their religious activities.
Farahnaz Ispahani, a public policy specialist at the Washington-based Wilson Center and a former Pakistani member of parliament, told attendees that “religious freedom issues have been escalating in the Middle East, China and North Korea for some time. , but now violence against religious minorities is a recurring phenomenon in parts of Africa, such as Nigeria.
“Even in Europe and the United States, there is growing intolerance towards religious minorities. One of the ways you can see that is an increase in attacks of anti-Semitism, the increase in attacks on Muslims and there have also been gun attacks on Christian churches. It’s disturbing,” she said.
“The victims of a lack of religious freedom do not belong to one religion,” she said. “Unfortunately, the religious tradition whose followers in one country violate the minority rights of another religion end up being discriminated against and persecuted” in another country.