Guest Editorial: Five key international religious freedom questions

Children in Lahore, Pakistan, pray for better future. (Photo: Gary Yim / Shutterstock)

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A new year often elicits feelings of hope and renewal. Unfortunately, for far too many people of faith around the world, the prospects are grim.

Here are five questions whose answers will have a significant impact on international religious freedom in 2017:

First, will the new U.S. administration embrace a robust engagement of international religious freedom?

One indication will be whether President-elect Donald Trump quickly nominates an ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom. This office at the State Department has a proven track record of positively pursuing change, as has been well demonstrated by the current ambassador.

However, over the 18 years of the office’s existence, it has taken an average of 353 days for a president to nominate an ambassador. We have issued an open letter—and ask you to sign it with us—asking President-elect Trump to retain or nominate an individual for this position within his first 100 days in office.

Second, will minority religious groups in the Middle East survive?

2016 ended with mixed messages. On one hand, the United Nations dedicated $85 million in reconstruction for Nineveh Christians. Conversely, there are disturbing reports that some Kurdish officials are denying access to education and health care to force displaced Christians to return “home” prematurely, even when “home” remains decimated. This year will be a crucial test for the long-term survival and rehabilitation of Christian, Yezidi and other communities forced to the edge of extinction.

Third, will Fulani militants in central Nigeria be recognized as one of the most lethal terrorist threats in the world, or will their threat continue to be minimized by a narrative of traditional “farmer-herdsmen” conflict?

In the shadow of Boko Haram, Fulani militancy has grown in central Nigeria since 2014. Highly asymmetric attacks primarily have impacted Christian minority communities and left dozens of villages burned to the ground, innocent infants slaughtered by machete, and the breadbasket of Nigeria imperiled. A rapidly developing famine is spreading across northeastern Nigeria. Burgeoning Fulani militant attacks across central Nigeria threaten to further fracture Christian communities and destabilize the most populist and largest economy in Africa.

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Fourth, will percolating religious freedom crises in Asia rise to international prominence?

For the past several years, the Islamic State and Boko Haram have dominated headlines. Less reported on but no less serious are numerous challenges across Asia, including the genocide of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, constitutional tightening against religious minorities in Nepal, and increasingly severe oppression by a Chinese government quietly incarcerating large numbers of Christians and human rights advocates.

Fifth, how will an International Religious Freedom Congressional Scorecard impact Congressional commitment?

On Feb. 15, we will publish a scorecard grading each member on the degree to which he/she votes to support international religious freedom. This tool should help elevate the prioritization of international religious freedom among congressional leadership in 2017 and beyond.

Take Action

1. Sign the open letter to President-elect Trump, urging him to retain or nominate an ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom in his first 100 days. Post the meme and the link——to challenge others to join you in this effort.

2. Friend us on Facebook (21st Century Wilberforce Initiative) or follow us on Twitter (@21wilberforce) to access exclusive content and stay current on how to effect change.

Elijah Brown is executive vice president of the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative.

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