by Ethan Tong & Jorge Gomez • 5 min read
OpenDoors—an international religious freedom watchdog group—recently released its “World Watch List 2023” that tracks and ranks persecution of Christians around the world.
First published in 1993, this year the report documented more than 360 million Christians around the world suffering “high levels of persecution” for their faith. Close to 6,000 Christians were reportedly killed for their faith in 2022, up more than 2,000 from just five years ago. The numbers show that 1-in-every-7 Christians worldwide is being persecuted!
The report makes clear: Religious persecution is at an all-time high. What’s especially shocking is that some of the worst offenders are in America’s backyard. We often think of religious persecution and oppression happening in faraway nations across the oceans. But Mexico, Cuba, Colombia and Nicaragua were included on the list of top 50 countries where it’s the most difficult to be a Christian––all here in the Western hemisphere.
With religious oppression increasing globally, Americans must remember the bedrock on which our nation is built. From its inception, the U.S. has always striven to be a safe haven to those who experience persecution. Religious freedom is a pillar of our Republic. Being grounded in this founding principle is more crucial now than ever.
When the Puritans set sail for America, they understood what it was like to be a religious minority fleeing an oppressive state. So, they vowed to create a culture where religious expression thrived. The first Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, John Winthrop, envisioned America as a beacon of light for religious freedom. “The eyes of all people are upon us,” he wrote. “We shall be as a city upon a hill.”
This is a crucial moment when every American must renew our commitment to safeguard our country’s historic promise of religious freedom for all. And the good news is that we have a prime opportunity to do just that.
For more than 50 years, religious freedom suffered many tough blows. A slew of harmful Supreme Court decisions from the 1940s to the 1990s warped the law regarding public religious expression and distorted the original intent of the Constitution.
But after a half century of hostility, the tide is turning. Persecution may be on the rise globally, but in America there is tremendous hope for our First Freedom. Thanks to landmark victories for religious freedom that you helped First Liberty secure in the Coach Kennedy, Treat Children Fairly and Bladensburg Peace Cross cases, we’re witnessing an unprecedented comeback. These victories have ushered in a new era of religious freedom.
As people in many nations struggle for their freedoms, Americans cannot take ours for granted. One of the most effective ways to counter the threat of tyranny and oppression is by going on offense, exercising our rights and restoring religious freedom where it rightfully and legally belongs.
God is opening the door for every one of us to exercise our rights and fearlessly live out our faith. Our Restoring Faith in America initiative encourages all Americans––that means you!—to be bold about their faith in public. Football players can huddle in prayer before games. If you’re a member of a Jewish community, this means you can put up a menorah in public or wear your yarmulke wherever you go. Ten Commandments monuments can be placed on government land. Don’t let the victories we’ve experienced stay in a courtroom––live it out in your own community!
As we proclaim and express our faith, we’re not done fighting legal battles. We’re still fighting at the U.S. Supreme Court for Aaron and Melissa Klein, who were punished by the state for wanting to operate their business consistent with their religious convictions. We also recently heard good news that we will argue our Faithful Carrier case with Gerald Groff at the U.S. Supreme Court on April 18. Gerald was wrongfully forced to quit his job because of his religious beliefs.
Winning these cases could protect millions of religious workers and countless business owners in America.
It is all too easy to become complacent in the wake of recent victories. But the alarming statistics from OpenDoors should come as a wakeup call. Not every country experiences religious freedom like we do here in the Land of the Free.
Religious freedom is in our DNA. It was a priority for the Pilgrims, and the First Freedom that the Founders enshrined in the Bill of Rights. Today, the future of religious freedom is in our hands. We can choose to stay silent, or we can capitalize on our victories and courageously celebrate the foundation of freedom from our Founders.