Forced conversion

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Forced conversion is adoption of a different religion or worldview under duress. Those who convert may willingly embrace their new religion or worldview, or may continue, covertly, with the beliefs and practices originally held, while outwardly maintaining the forms of the new religion or worldview. Crypto-Jews, crypto-Christians, crypto-Muslims and crypto-Pagans are historical examples of the latter.

Religion and power[edit]

In general, anthropologists have shown that the relationship between religion and politics is complex, especially when viewed over the expanse of human history.[1] While religious leaders and the state generally have different aims, both are concerned with power and order; both use reason and emotion to motivate behavior. Throughout history, leaders of religious and political institutions have cooperated, opposed one another, or attempted to co-opt each other, for purposes both noble and base, and have implemented programs with a wide range of driving values, from compassion aimed at alleviating current suffering to brutal change aimed at achieving longer-term goals, for the benefit of groups ranging from small cliques to all of humanity. The relationship is far from simple. But religion has often been used coercively, and has used coercion.[1]


Christianity was a minority religion during much of the Roman Empire, and the early Christians were persecuted during that time. When Constantine I converted to Christianity, it became the dominant religion in the Roman Empire. Already under the reign of Constantine I, Christian heretics had been persecuted; beginning in the late 4th century, the ancient pagan religions were also actively suppressed. In the view of many historians, the Constantinian shift turned Christianity from a persecuted religion into one capable of persecution and sometimes eager to persecute.[2] There are many examples of forced conversion throughout the history of Christianity: during the Roman Empire, in the Middle Ages, inquisitions in Spain and Goa, forced conversion of indigenous children, and against Hindus.

End of Roman Empire[edit]

In 392 Emperor Theodosius I decreed that Christianity was the only legal religion of the Roman Empire and forbade pagan practices:

It is Our will that all the peoples who are ruled by the administration of Our Clemency shall practice that religion which the divine Peter the Apostle transmitted to the Romans.... The rest, whom We adjudge demented and insane, shall sustain the infamy of heretical dogmas, their meeting places shall not receive the name of churches, and they shall be smitten first by divine vengeance and secondly by the retribution of Our own initiative" (Codex Theodosianus XVI 1.2.).[3]

Medieval era[edit]

During the Saxon Wars, Charlemagne, King of the Franks, forcibly Roman Catholicized the Saxons from their native Germanic paganism by way of warfare, and law upon conquest. Examples are the Massacre of Verden in 782, when Charlemagne reportedly had 4,500 captive Saxons massacred upon rebelling against conversion, and the Capitulatio de partibus Saxoniae, a law imposed on conquered Saxons in 785 that prescribed death to those who refused to convert to Christianity.[4][5]

Pope Innocent III pronounced in 1201 that if one agreed to be baptized to avoid torture and intimidation, one nevertheless could be compelled to outwardly observe Christianity:

"[T]hose who are immersed even though reluctant, do belong to ecclesiastical jurisdiction at least by reason of the sacrament, and might therefore be reasonably compelled to observe the rules of the Christian Faith. It is, to be sure, contrary to the Christian Faith that anyone who is unwilling and wholly opposed to it should be compelled to adopt and observe Christianity. For this reason a valid distinction is made by some between kinds of unwilling ones and kinds of compelled ones. Thus one who is drawn to Christianity by violence, through fear and through torture, and receives the sacrament of Baptism in order to avoid loss, he (like one who comes to Baptism in dissimulation) does receive the impress of Christianity, and may be forced to observe the Christian Faith as one who expressed a conditional willingness though, absolutely speaking, he was unwilling ..."[6]


Further information: Morisco, Marrano, and Spanish inquisition

After the end of the Islamic control of Spain, Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492 and from Portugal in 1497.[7] Muslims were expelled from Portugal in 1497, and were gradually forced to convert in the constituent kingdoms of Spain. The forced conversion of Muslims was implemented in the Crown of Castile from 1500–02 and in the Crown of Aragon in the 1520s.[8] After the conversions, the so-called "New Christians" were those inhabitants (Sephardic Jews or Mudéjar Muslims) who were baptized under coercion and in the face of execution, becoming forced converts from Islam (Moriscos, Conversos and "secret Moors") or from Judaism (Conversos, Crypto-Jews and Marranos).

After the forced conversion, when all former Muslims and Jews had ostensibly became Catholic, the Spanish Inquisition targeted primarily forced converts from Judaism, who came under suspicion of either continuing to adhere to their old religion or having fallen back into it. Jewish conversos still resided in Spain and often practiced Judaism cryptically and were suspected by the "Old Christians" of being Crypto-Jews. The Spanish Inquisition generated much wealth and income for the church and individual inquisitors by confiscating the property of the persecuted. The end of the Al-Andalus and the expulsion of the Sephardic Jews from the Iberian Peninsula went hand in hand with the increase of Spanish and Portuguese influence in the world, as exemplified in the Christian conquest of the Americas and their aboriginal Indian population. The Ottoman Empire and Morocco absorbed most of the Jewish refugees, although a large majority remained as Conversos.[9]

Goa inquisition[edit]

Main article: Goa Inquisition

The Portuguese practised religious persecution in Goa, India in the 16th and 17th centuries. The natives of Goa, most of them Hindus, were subjected to severe torture and oppression by the zealous Portuguese rulers and missionaries, and forcibly converted to Christianity.[10][11][12][13][14][15]

In 1567, the campaign to destroy temples in Bardez met with success, with 300 Hindu temples destroyed. Prohibition was laid from December 4, 1567 on rituals of Hindu marriages, sacred thread wearing and cremation. All persons above 15 years of age were compelled to listen to Christian preaching, failing which they were punished. In 1583, Hindu temples at Assolna and Cuncolim were destroyed byh army action. "The fathers of the Church forbade the Hindus under terrible penalties the use of their own sacred books, and prevented them from all exercise of their religion. They destroyed their temples, and so harassed and interfered with the people that they abandoned the city in large numbers, refusing to remain any longer in a place where they had no liberty, and were liable to imprisonment, torture and death if they worshiped after their own fashion the gods of their fathers", wrote Filippo Sassetti, who was in India from 1578 to 1588. An order was issued in June 1684 for suppressing the Konkani language and making it compulsory to speak Portuguese, on pain of severe penalties. All non-Christian cultural symbols and books written in local languages were also ordered to be destroyed.[16]

Hindus in India[edit]

Much more recently, the Baptist Church of Tripura is alleged to have supplied the NLFT with arms and financial support and to have encouraged the murder of Hindus, particularly infants, as a means to depopulate the region of all Hindus.[17] In 2009, the Assam Times reported that about fifteen armed Hmar militants, members of the Manmasi National Christian Army, tried to force Hindu residents of Bhuvan Pahar, Assam to convert to Christianity.[18] A few Christian evangelists in India have been accused of forced conversion of Hindus or others.[19][20]


Forced conversions occurred under the Hasmonean Kingdom. The Idumeans were forced to convert to Judaism, by threat of exile or death, depending on the source.[21][22] In Eusebíus, Christianity, and Judaism, Harold W. Attridge claims that "there is reason to think that Josephus' account of their conversion is substantially accurate." He also writes: "that these were not isolated instances, but that forced conversion was a national policy, is clear from the fact that Alexander Jannaeus (around 80 BCE) demolished the city of Pella in Moab, 'because the inhabitants would not agree to adopt the national custom of the Jews.'" Josephus, Antiquities. 13.15.4.[23]

Maurice Sartre has written of the "policy of forced Judaization adopted by Hyrcanos, Aristobulus I and Jannaeus", who offered "the conquered peoples a choice between expulsion or conversion,"[24]

William Horbury has written that "The evidence is best explained by postulating that an existing small Jewish population in Lower Galilee was massively expanded by the forced conversion in c.104 BCE of their Gentile neighbours in the north."[25]

In 2009 the BBC defended a claim that in 524 CE the Yemeni Jewish Himyar tribe, led by King Dhu Nuwas, had offered Christian residents of a village in what is now Saudi Arabia the choice between conversion to Judaism or death, and that 20,000 Christians had then been massacred. The BBC stated that "The production team spoke to many historians over 18 months, among them Nigel Groom, who was our consultant, and Professor Abdul Rahman Al-Ansary [former professor of archaeology at the King Saud University in Riyadh]."[26] Inscriptions documented by Yousef himself show the great pride he expressed after massacring more than 22,000 Christians in Zafar and Najran.[27]


Although Islam explicitly prohibits forced conversion,[28][29][30] some cases of it were reported.


Historians point out that forced conversions have occurred during Islamic history.[31][not specific enough to verify][32][page needed][33][34][35][page needed][36][page needed] Noted cases include the conversion of Samaritans to Islam at the hands of the rebel Ibn Firāsa,[37][not specific enough to verify][38]

In 717 AD, under administration of the Muslim Arabs, heavy taxation has been suggested by some[who?] to have moved large numbers of Coptic Christians to convert to Islam in North Africa[39]


Registration of boys for the devşirme. Ottoman miniature painting from the Süleymanname, 1558.

A form of forced conversion became institutionalized during the Ottoman Empire in the practice of devşirme, a human levy in which Christian boys were seized and collected from their families (usually in the Balkans), enslaved, converted to Islam, and then trained as elite military unit within the Ottoman army or for high-ranking service to the sultan.[40] From the mid to late 14th, through early 18th centuries, the devşirmejanissary system enslaved an estimated 500,000 to one million non–Muslim adolescent males.[41] These boys would attain a great education and high social standing after their training and conversion.[42]

There were conversions in the 12th century under the Almohad dynasty of North Africa and Andalusia. Reports from the period describe that, after an initial 7-month grace period, the Almohads killed or forcefully converted Jewish communities in each new city they conquered until "there was no Jew left from Silves to Mahdia."[43] Cases of mass martyrdom of Jews who refused to convert to Islam are also reported.[citation needed] There is dispute amongst scholars as to whether the famous Jewish philosopher Maimonides converted to Islam in order to freely escape from Almohad territory, and then reconverted back to Judaism in either the Levant or in Egypt.[44] Maimonides wrote a book on apostasy wherein he advocated accepting forced conversion rather than suffer martydom, and to then seek refuge afterward at a place where it was safe. The dispute also extended to the allegedly forced conversion of Sabbatai Zevi, an Ottoman Jew from Smyrna. In reality, at the beginning of 1666, the Ottoman Sultan in Constantinople ordered Sabbatai, who had many followers and had claimed to be the long-awaited Jewish messiah, to be imprisoned. When Sabbatai was later taken to Adrianople, the Sultan's physician, a former Jew, advised him to convert to Islam. The following day he converted before the Sultan, who happily rewarded Sabbatai by conferring the title (Mahmed) Effendi, and appointing him as his doorkeeper with a high salary. A number of Sabbatai's followers also went over to Islam and about 300 families converted and were known as dönmeh (converts).[45]

In Persia under the Safavid dynasty where Sunnis were converted to Shi'ism[46][page needed] and Jews were converted to Islam.[47]


United Nations Refugee Agency and other global human rights groups have published several reports describing forced conversion to Islam in nations with majority Muslim and large regional Muslim populations. Many Hindus in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh have been forcefully converted to Islam by Islamic extremist groups in the region.[48][49][50] Similarly, Christian women have been abducted and forced to convert to Islam in Pakistan.[51] Many Hindu temples have been destroyed in recent decades in Kashmir, Pakistan and Bangladesh by Islamic extremist groups in the region.[52] There are also several cases of forceful conversion in Europe. For example, some Muslim prisoners in the UK have been forcibly converting people to Islam in prisons.[53] A common theme of conversions by extremist groups is the choice between conversion or death. In Nigeria, the Islamist group Boko Haram has demanded Christian women to convert to Islam or die.[54] In Iraq, the Islamic extremist group ISIL has demanded that non-Muslims convert to Islam or face execution.[55] Many Christians in Egypt are forcefully converted to Islam by extremist groups.[56] Many Hindu Temples and Christian Churches have been destroyed in Pakistan and Bangladesh by extremist groups with the intention of making the region purely Islamic.[48][57][58] Some historical and current examples of forced conversion into Islam within the current century are described below.


During the Noakhali genocide of Hindus in 1946, several thousand Hindus were forcibly converted to Islam by Muslim mobs.[59][60] In Bangladesh, the International Crimes Tribunal tried and convicted several leaders of the Islamic Razakar militias, as well as Bangladesh Muslim Awami league (Forid Uddin Mausood), of war crimes committed against Hindus during the 1971 Bangladesh atrocities. The charges included forced conversion of Bengali Hindus to Islam.[61] In the 1998 Prankote massacre, 26 Kashmiri Hindus were beheaded by Islamist militants after their denial of converting into Islam. The militants struck when the villagers refused demands from the gunmen to convert to Islam and prove their conversion by eating beef.[62]

In Jammu and Kashmir, the Ladakh Buddhist Association has said: "There is a deliberate and organised design to convert Kargil's Buddhists to Islam. In the last four years, about 50 girls and married women with children were taken and converted from village Wakha alone. If this continues unchecked, we fear that Buddhists will be wiped out from Kargil in the next two decades or so. Anyone objecting to such allurement and conversions is harassed."[63][64]



The rise of Taliban insurgency in Pakistan has been an influential and increasing factor in the persecution of and discrimination against religious minorities, such as Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, and other minorities.[65]

The Human Rights Council of Pakistan has reported that cases of forced conversion are increasing.[66][67] A 2014 report says about 1,000 Christian and Hindu women in Pakistan are forcibly converted to Islam every year.[68][69][70] [71]

In 2003 a six-year-old Sikh girl was kidnapped by a member of the Afridi tribe in Northwest Frontier Province; he also claimed the girl had converted to Islam and therefore could not be returned to her family.[72]

In May 2007, members of the Christian community of Charsadda in the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan, close to the border of Afghanistan, reported that they had received letters threatening bombings if they did not convert to Islam, and that the police were not taking their fears seriously.[73] In June 2009, International Christian Concern (ICC) reported the rape and killing of a Christian man in Pakistan, for refusing to convert to Islam.[74]

Rinkle Kumari, a 19 year Pakistani student, Lata Kumari, and Asha Kumari, a Hindu working in a beauty parlor, were allegedly forced to convert from Hinduism to Islam.[75][76] Their cases were appealed all the way to the Supreme Court of Pakistan where they said that they wanted to live with their parents and not their 'so called' husbands.[77]


In 2012, over 1000 Catholic children in East Timor, removed from their families, were reported to being held in Indonesia without consent of their parents, forcibly converted to Islam, educated in Islamic schools and naturalized.[78] Other reports claim forced conversion of minority Ahmadiyya sect Muslims to Sunni Islam, with the use of violence.[79][80][81]

In 2005, three Indonesian Christian women were charged with attempting to convert Muslim children to Christianity in 2005. They were sentenced to three years' imprisonment. The punishment was upheld by the Supreme Court of Indonesia upon appeal.[82][83]

In 2001 the Indonesian army evacuated hundreds of Christian refugees from the remote Kesui and Teor islands in Maluku after the refugees stated that they had been forced to convert to Islam. According to reports, some of the men had been circumcised against their will, and a paramilitary group involved in the incident confirmed that circumcisions had taken place while denying any element of coercion.[84]


In 2013, Inter Press Service reported more than 500 Christian girls have been abducted in Egypt, over the last two years, with a growing number of cases involving girls between the ages of 13 and 17.[85] In 2012, a 14-year-old Coptic Christian girl was kidnapped, forcibly converted to Islam and married in Al Dab'a, Egypt, though Egyptian laws criminalize child marriage and prohibit the conversion of minors.[86]

Egypt's largest newspaper Al-Ahram has reported a number of kidnapping and forced conversion of Coptic Christian girls to Islam, followed by marriage against their will to Muslim men.[87] Similar claims of forced conversion have been reported by other independent organizations.[88][89]

In 2004 Coptic Christians in Egypt occupied the main Coptic cathedral in Cairo for several days, angry at the disappearance of a priest's wife in a village in the Nile delta, who, they alleged, had been forced to convert to Islam. The BBC reported that allegations of forced conversions of Copts to Islam surface every year in Egypt.[90]

Other notables among these have been the cases of Iraq's Mandaeans,[91] Egypt's Coptic Orthodox Christians, Christians of Pakistan[73] and Assyrian Christians of Iraq[92][93][94] who have faced coercion to convert to Islam.[95][96]

In 2006 two journalists of the Fox News Network had been kidnapped and forced to convert to Islam at gunpoint. After conversion they were made to read statements on videotape proclaiming that they had converted, after which they were released by their captors.[97]

There have been numerous reports of Islamic attempts to forcibly convert religious minorities in Iraq. In Baghdad, Christians have been told to convert to Islam, pay the jizya or die.[92][94][98] In March 2007 the BBC reported that people in the Mandaean religious minority in Iraq alleged that they were being targeted by Islamist insurgents, who offered them the choice of conversion or death.[91]

In several Middle East countries, force of law has been used to prevent and punish apostasy and religious conversions. For example, in 2008, sharia courts of Jordan have used Islamic law to judge religious conversion. People who convert from Islam to other religions lose their civil and property rights, their marriages are annulled, and their Muslims relatives gain custody of their children.[99] In Saudi Arabia, on December 17, 2012, the Jeddah District Court, hearing charges against Raif Badawi for the crime of apostasy (leaving Islamic faith), demanded that the defendant "repent to God" in the court. Badawi refused. The judge then referred the sentence of death penalty to a higher court.[100]

The Yazidi people of northern Iraq, who follow an ethnoreligious syncretic faith, have been threatened with forced conversion by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, who consider their practices to be Satanism.[101]


A Maldivian man, Mohammed Nazim,[102] was assaulted in 2010 after he attended a conference on religion and, during the question and answer session, asked questions on Islam, while confessing that he was born to Muslim parents, has read a translation of Qur'an, but does not believe in religion, that he is atheist. The conference gathering of about 11,000 demanded that the atheist be attacked and killed. Maldives' constitution stipulates Maldives citizens must be Muslims. The Maldivian man was arrested, given a chance to return to Islam or face criminal charges with death penalty. In prison, he agreed to return to Islam.[103][104]


In August 2009, ICC reported that four Christians working to help orphans in Somalia were beheaded by Islamist extremists when they refused to convert to Islam.[105]

United Kingdom[edit]

According to the Daily Mail, in 2007, commissioner of police Sir Ian Blair stated the police were targeting extremist members of the Muslim community who were allegedly forcing vulnerable girls to convert to Islam in response to claims made by the Hindu Forum.[106] In 2007 a Sikh girl's family claimed that she had been forcibly converted to Islam, and they received a police guard after being attacked by an armed gang, although the "Police said no one was injured in the incident".[107]

In response to these news stories, an open letter to Sir Ian Blair, signed by ten Hindu academics, argued that claims that Hindu and Sikh girls were being forcefully converted were "part of an arsenal of myths propagated by right-wing Hindu supremacist organisations in India".[108] The Muslim Council of Britain issued a press release pointing out there is a lack of evidence of any forced conversions and suggested it is an underhand attempt to smear the British Muslim population.[109]

An academic paper by Katy Sian published in the journal South Asian Popular Culture in 2011 explored the question of how "'forced' conversion narratives" arose around the Sikh diaspora in the United Kingdom.[110] Sian, who reports that claims of conversion through courtship on campuses are widespread in the UK, indicates that rather than relying on actual evidence they primarily rest on the word of "a friend of a friend" or on personal anecdote. According to Sian, the narrative is similar to accusations of "white slavery" lodged against the Jewish community and foreigners to the UK and the US, with the former having ties to anti-semitism that mirror the Islamophobia betrayed by the modern narrative. Sian expanded on these views in 2013's Mistaken Identities, Forced Conversions, and Postcolonial Formations.[111]


Indian Christians have alleged that "radical Hindu groups" in Orissa, India have forced Christian converts from Hinduism to "revert"[112] to Hinduism. These "religious riots" were largely between two tribal groups in Orissa, one of which was predominantly Hindu and another predominantly Christian, over the assassination of a Hindu leader named Swami Lakshmanananda by Christian Maoists operating as terrorist groups in India (see Naxalite).[113] In the aftermath of the violence, American Christian evangelical groups have claimed that Hindu groups are "forcibly reverting" Christians converts from Hinduism back to Hinduism.[112] It has also been alleged that groups like Vishwa Hindu Parishad have converted poor Muslims and Christians to Hinduism against their will and through allurements.[114][115]


"St. Theodora Church in downtown Chişinău was converted into the city's Museum of Scientific Atheism".
Andrei Brezianu[116]

Eastern Bloc[edit]

Under the doctrine of state atheism in the Soviet Union, there was a "government-sponsored program of forced conversion to atheism" conducted by Communists.[117][118][119] This program included the overarching objective to establish not only a fundamentally materialistic conception of the universe, but to foster "direct and open criticism of the religious outlook" by means of establishing an "anti-religious trend" across the entire school.[120] The Russian Orthodox Church, for centuries the strongest of all Orthodox Churches, was violently suppressed.[121] Revolutionary leader Vladimir Lenin wrote that every religious idea and every idea of God "is unutterable vileness... of the most dangerous kind, 'contagion of the most abominable kind".[122] Many priests were killed and imprisoned. Thousands of churches were closed, some turned into hospitals. In 1925 the government founded the League of Militant Atheists to intensify the persecution.[123]

1929 cover of the USSR League of Militant Atheists magazine, showing the gods of the Abrahamic religions being crushed by the Communist 5-year plan

Christopher Marsh, a professor at the Baylor University writes that "Tracing the social nature of religion from Schleiermacher and Feurbach to Marx, Engles, and Lenin...the idea of religion as a social product evolved to the point of policies aimed at the forced conversion of believers to atheism."[124] Jonathan Blake of the Department of Political Science at Columbia University elucidates the history of this practice in the USSR, stating that:[125]

God, however, did not simply vanish after the Bolshevik revolution. Soviet authorities relied heavily on coercion to spread their idea of scientific atheism. This included confiscating church goods and property, forcibly closing religious institutions and executing religious leaders and believers or sending them to the gulag. … Later, the United States passed the Jackson-Vanik amendment which harmed US-Soviet trade relations until the USSR permitted the emigration of religious minorities, primarily Jews. Despite the threat from coreligionists abroad, however, the Soviet Union engaged in forced atheism from its earliest days.[125]

Across Eastern Europe following World War II, the parts of the Nazi Empire conquered by the Soviet Red Army, and Yugsolavia became one party Communist states and the project of coercive conversion continued.[126][127] The Soviet Union ended its war time truce against the Russian Orthodox Church, and extended its persecutions to the newly Communist Eastern bloc: "In Poland, Hungary, Lithuania and other Eastern European countries, Catholic leaders who were unwilling to be silent were denounced, publicly humiliated or imprisoned by the Communists. Leaders of the national Orthodox Churches in Romania and Bulgaria had to be cautious and submissive", wrote Blainey.[121] While the churches were generally not as severely treated at they had been in the USSR, nearly all their schools and many of their churches were closed, and they lost their formally prominent roles in public life. Children were taught atheism, and clergy were imprisoned by the thousands.[128]

In the Eastern Bloc, Christian churches, Jewish synagogues and Islamic mosques were forcibly "converted into museums of atheism."[129][130] Historical essayist Andrei Brezianu expounds upon this situation, specifically in the Socialist Republic of Romania, writing that scientific atheism was "aggressively applied to Moldova, immediately after the 1940 annexation, when churches were profaned, clergy assaulted, and signs and public symbols of religion were prohibited"; he provides an example of this phenomenon, further writing that "St. Theodora Church in downtown Chişinău was converted into the city's Museum of Scientific Atheism".[116] Marxist-Leninist regimes treated religious believers as subversives or abnormal, sometimes relegating them to psychiatric hospitals and reeducation.[131][132] Nevertheless, historian Emily Baran writes that "some accounts suggest the conversion to militant atheism did not always end individuals’ existential questions".[133]

French Revolution[edit]

During the French Revolution, a campaign of dechristianization happened which included removal and destruction of religious objects from places of worship; English librarian Thomas Hartwell Horne and biblical scholar Samuel Davidson write that "churches were converted into 'temples of reason,' in which atheistical and licesntious homilies were substituted for the proscribed service".[134][135][136][137]

Unlike later establishments of state atheism by communist regimes, the French Revolutionary experiment was short (7 months), incomplete and inconsistent.[138][better source needed] Although brief, the French experiment was particularly notable for the influence upon atheists Ludwig Feuerbach, Sigmund Freud and Karl Marx.[131]

East Asian Communism[edit]

The emergence of Communist states across East Asia after World War Two saw religion purged by atheist regimes across China, North Korea and much of Indo-China.[139] In 1949, China became a Communist state under the leadership of Mao Zedong's Communist Party of China. China itself had been a cradle of religious thought since ancient times, being the birthplace of Confucianism and Daoism, and Buddhists having arrived in the first century AD. Under Mao, China became officially atheist, and though some religious practices were permitted to continue under State supervision, religious groups deemed a threat to order have been suppressed—as with Tibetan Buddhism from 1959 and Falun Gong in recent years.[140] Religious schools and social institutions were closed, foreign missionaries expelled, and local religious practices discouraged.[141] During the Cultural Revolution, Mao instigated "struggles" against the Four Olds: "old ideas, customs, culture, and habits of mind".[142] In 1999, the Communist Party launched a three-year drive to promote atheism in Tibet, saying intensifying propaganda on atheism is "especially important for Tibet because atheism plays an extremely important role in promoting economic construction, social advancement and socialist spiritual civilization in the region".[143]

Revolutionary Mexico[edit]

Articles 3, 5, 24, 27, and 130 of the Mexican Constitution of 1917 as originally enacted were anticlerical and enormously restricted religious freedoms.[144] At first the anticlerical provisions were only sporadically enforced, but when President Plutarco Elías Calles took office, he enforced the provisions strictly.[144] Calles’ Mexico has been characterized as an atheist state[145] and his program as being one to eradicate religion in Mexico.[146]

All religions had their properties expropriated, and these became part of government wealth. There was a forced expulsion of foreign clergy and the seizure of Church properties.[147] Article 27 prohibited any future acquisition of such property by the churches, and prohibited religious corporations and ministers from establishing or directing primary schools.[147] This second prohibition was sometimes interpreted to mean that the Church could not give religious instruction to children within the churches on Sundays, seen as destroying the ability of Catholics to be educated in their own religion.[148]

The Constitution of 1917 also closed and forbade the existence of monastic orders (article 5), forbade any religious activity outside of church buildings (now owned by the government), and mandated that such religious activity would be overseen by the government (article 24).[147]

On June 14, 1926, President Calles enacted anticlerical legislation known formally as The Law Reforming the Penal Code and unofficially as the Calles Law.[149] His anti-Catholic actions included outlawing religious orders, depriving the Church of property rights and depriving the clergy of civil liberties, including their right to a trial by jury (in cases involving anti-clerical laws) and the right to vote.[149][150] Catholic antipathy towards Calles was enhanced because of his vocal atheism.[151] He was also a Freemason.[152] Regarding this period, recent President Vicente Fox stated, "After 1917, Mexico was led by anti-Catholic Freemasons who tried to evoke the anticlerical spirit of popular indigenous President Benito Juárez of the 1880s. But the military dictators of the 1920s were a more savage lot than Juarez." [153]

Cristeros hanged in Jalisco.

Due to the strict enforcement of anti-clerical laws, people in strongly Catholic areas, especially the states of Jalisco, Zacatecas, Guanajuato, Colima and Michoacán, began to oppose him, and this opposition led to the Cristero War from 1926 to 1929, which was characterized by brutal atrocities on both sides. Some Cristeros applied terrorist tactics, while the Mexican government persecuted the clergy, killing suspected Cristeros and supporters and often retaliating against innocent individuals.[154] On May 28, 1926, Calles was awarded a medal of merit from the head of Mexico's Scottish rite of Freemasonry for his actions against the Catholics.[155]

A truce was negotiated with the assistance of U.S. Ambassador Dwight Whitney Morrow.[156] Calles, however, did not abide by the terms of the truce – in violation of its terms, he had approximately 500 Cristero leaders and 5,000 other Cristeros shot, frequently in their homes in front of their spouses and children.[156] Particularly offensive to Catholics after the supposed truce was Calles' insistence on a complete state monopoly on education, suppressing all Catholic education and introducing "socialist" education in its place: "We must enter and take possession of the mind of childhood, the mind of youth.".[157] The persecution continued as Calles maintained control under his Maximato and did not relent until 1940, when President Manuel Ávila Camacho, a believing Catholic, took office.[157] This attempt to indoctrinate the youth in atheism was begun in 1934 by amending Article 3 to the Mexican Constitution to eradicate religion by mandating "socialist education", which "in addition to removing all religious doctrine" would "combat fanaticism and prejudices", "build[ing] in the youth a rational and exact concept of the universe and of social life".[144] In 1946 this "socialist education" was removed from the constitution and the document returned to the less egregious generalized secular education. The effects of the war on the Church were profound. Between 1926 and 1934 at least 40 priests were killed.[157] Where there were 4,500 priests operating within the country before the rebellion, in 1934 there were only 334 priests licensed by the government to serve fifteen million people, the rest having been eliminated by emigration, expulsion, and assassination.[157][158] By 1935, 17 states had no priest at all.[159]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Firth, Raymond (1981) Spiritual Aroma: Religion and Politics. American Anthropologist, New Series, Vol. 83, No. 3, pp. 582–601
  2. ^ see e.g. John Coffey, Persecution and Toleration on Protestant England 1558–1689, 2000, p.22
  3. ^ "Paganism and Rome". Retrieved 2012-11-13. 
  4. ^ For the Massacre of Verden, see Barbero, Alessandro (2004). Charlemagne: Father of a Continent, page 46. University of California Press. For the Capitulatio de partibus Saxoniae, see Riché, Pierre (1993). The Carolingians. University of Pennsylvania Press. ISBN 978-0-8122-1342-3.
  5. ^ The Crusades, by Bernard Hamilton, 1998, Sutton Publishing, United Kingdom, Chapter 9: Later Crusades, p. 87: "In 1309 the Teutonic Order moved its headquarters to Marienburg in Prussia. It had a papal license to wage perpetual war against the pagans and used this to launch annual crusades against Lithuania. These expeditions were very popular with the nobility of northern Europe: campaigns were held twice a year, in the summer and in the winter when the order laid on special Christmas festivities for visiting crusaders." "The excuse for men who enjoyed fighting and to lay waste large parts of Lithuania in the name of Christ was removed in 1386 when the King of Lithuania, Jagiello, married Queen Jadwiga of Poland and received Catholic baptism. The two kingdoms were united under Christian rulers and the Teutonic Knights no longer had any justification for crusading against pagans there."
  6. ^ Chazan, Robert, ed., Church, State, and Jew in the Middle Ages, West Orange, NJ:Behrman House, 1980, p. 103.
  7. ^ Lowenstein, Steven (2001). The Jewish Cultural Tapestry: International Jewish Folk Traditions. Oxford University Press. p. 36. ISBN 9780195313604. 
  8. ^ Harvey, L. P. (16 May 2005). Muslims in Spain, 1500 to 1614. University of Chicago Press. p. 64. ISBN 978-0-226-31963-6. 
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  10. ^ Of umbrellas, goddesses, and dreams: essays on Goan culture and society Robert Samuel Newman, 2001
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