About 190 million Americans affiliate with a rich and diverse variety of religious groups in our great country. The genius of our Founding Fathers guaranteed in the First Amendment to the Constitution that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Because of their determination and foresight, Americans are able, by law and in practice, to find meaning and blessing in religion, unmolested by anyone who holds different beliefs or no religious belief at all.
Globally, approximately 5.8 billion people identify with some religious belief or practice. Too many of them do not enjoy the freedoms of expression and practice that Americans do. The Pew Research Center reports that 75 percent of the world’s population lives in areas with severe religious restrictions. Governments often suppress religious expression, or turn a blind eye when religious minorities are targets of discrimination or violence.
The list of religious minorities at risk is long. It includes the Baha’i in Iran, Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, Hindus in Bangladesh, and numerous religious groups in China. Anti-Semitism is spiking in Europe and Islamophobia rises with every Islamist terror attack.
Far and away, however, the most endangered religious minorities are Christian. From Boko Haram in Nigeria, to the Copts in Egypt, to attacks in Iraq, to Pakistan and its blasphemy laws, 100 million Christians are imperiled like no other group today. While we take our freedoms for granted, millions of Christians approach each day uncertain if they, their property or their houses of worship will survive.
The threats are growing and all too real: On July 25, two ISIS-inspired terrorists invaded a church in Normandy. One slit the throat of the 84-year-old Catholic priest, while the other delivered an oration from the altar in Arabic to the hostages. What was new about this outrage was not the barbarism, but the fact that the church was on an ISIS hit list. We know that ISIS had publicized other lists, including the directories of houses of worship, specifying targets to its vast numbers of sympathizers without having to coordinate the attacks. The Normandy episode represents an ominous escalation: the targeting of the faithful from lists of suggested targets. Can such an incident on American soil be far behind?
Millions of Americans are understandably concerned about their co-religionists in other lands. Many more of us -- including those who profess no faith at all -- believe that religious affiliation is a fundamental part of identity, and therefore a basic human right. They want to see the U.S. do more to protect religious minorities worldwide, as well as in our own country.
The 45th President of the United States needs to answer some questions, so Americans know their views:
- Will you make the protection of religious minorities a core part of your foreign policy?
- Will you link such protection as a precondition to bilateral aid -- or trade?
- Will you support the Three Day Initiative – the idea that every government must ensure that all its citizens who leave their homes to worship on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday can go to and from worship unmolested?
- Will you instruct our diplomatic corps to monitor and report on attacks on religious minorities?
- Should endangered Syrian and Iraqi Christians and Yazidis receive preferential consideration over other Syrians seeking to migrate to the U.S.?
- Should anyone seeking to emigrate to the U.S. be vetted for hatred of religious groups in their native countries?
Your response to our questions will help Americans make an informed choice this November.
Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein
Rev. Dr. Samuel Rodriguez