Persecution of Christians in the modern era
|Freedom of religion|
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of the Catholic Church
The Pew Research Center has performed studies on international religious freedom, researching restrictions on religion originating from government prohibitions on free speech and religious expression as well as social hostilities undertaken by private individuals, organisations and social groups. In many countries around the world, Christians are subject to restrictions on speech, and suffer communal violence and hate crimes.
- 1 Anti-Christian expressions
- 2 Examples of anti-Christian sentiment in politics and culture
- 2.1 Middle East
- 2.2 Europe
- 2.3 Africa
- 2.4 Americas
- 2.5 Asia
- 3 See also
- 4 References
- 5 Further reading
- 6 External links
Arson attacks on churches have been seen in Norway and the United States. Some arson attacks are considered hate crimes perpetrated for racial reasons by people inspired by racial hate groups. Headliners of the black metal genre have claimed responsibility for inspiring (and sometimes perpetrating) over fifty Norwegian church burnings from 1992 to 1996 alone. Among the most notable was Fantoft Stave Church, which the police believed was destroyed by the one-man band Burzum, Varg Vikernes, also known as 'Count Grishnackh'. The burnt-out shell of the building is featured on the cover of his 1993 EP Aske (Norwegian for 'ashes').
The vandalism or defacement of Christian property is one form of the expression of anti-Christian sentiment. The destruction of property held by churches and Christian individuals can be in violation of various criminal laws, and can violate hate speech laws if it is racially or religiously motivated.
Examples of anti-Christian sentiment in politics and culture
Fiorello Provera of the European Parliament called the Middle East "the most dangerous place for Christians to live" and cited Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who blamed the international community for failing to deal with what she considers a war against Christians in the Muslim world.
According to Israeli ambassador to the United States Michael Oren, in the hundred years leading up to 2010 the Middle East's Christian population dwindled from 20% to less than 5%. Oren argues that with the exception of Israel, Christians in the Middle East have endured severe political and cultural hardships: in Egypt, Muslim extremists have subjected Coptic Christians to beatings and massacres, resulting in the exodus of 200,000 Copts from their homes; in Iraq, 1,000 Christians were killed in Baghdad between the years 2003 and 2012 and 70 churches in the country were burned; in Iran, converts to Christianity face the death penalty and in 2012 Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani was sentenced to death; in Saudi Arabia, private Christian prayer is against the law; in the Gaza Strip, half of the Palestinian Christian population has fled since Hamas seized power in 2007 and Gazan law forbids public displays of crucifixes; in the West Bank, the Christian population has been reduced from 15% to less than 2%.
In Egypt, the government does not recognize religious conversions from Islam to Christianity. Foreign missionaries are allowed in the country if they restrict their activities to social improvements and refrain from proselytizing. The Coptic Pope Shenouda III was internally exiled in 1981 by President Anwar Sadat, who then chose five Coptic bishops and asked them to choose a new pope. They refused, and in 1985 President Hosni Mubarak restored Pope Shenouda III, who had been accused of fomenting interconfessional strife. Particularly in Upper Egypt, the rise in extremist Islamist groups such as the Gama'at Islamiya during the 1980s was accompanied by increased attacks on Copts and on Coptic Orthodox churches; these have since declined with the decline of those organizations, but still continue. The police have been accused of siding with the attackers in some of these cases.
In April 2006, one person was killed and twelve injured in simultaneous knife attacks on three Coptic Orthodox churches in Alexandria.
Since the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak in 2011, Egypt's Coptic Christians have been the target of increasing opposition and discrimination. In 2011, anti-Christian activity in Egypt included church burnings, protests against the appointment of a Coptic Christian governor in Qena, and deadly confrontations with the Egyptian army. On television Islamists referred to Christians as heretics and said they should be made to pay the jizya tax. A Coptic priest accused Islamists in the country of massacring uninfected pigs predominantly owned by Copts during a swine flu scare: "They killed these innocent pigs just because they thought they violated their religion in some way." In October 2011 a draft resolution passed by the European Parliament accused Egypt of persecuting the country's Christian population. By mid-2012 10,000 Christians had fled the country.
In July 2012, Dahshur's entire Christian community, which some estimate to be as many as a hundred families, fled to nearby towns due to sectarian violence. The violence began in a dispute over a badly ironed shirt, which in turn escalated into a fight in which a Christian burned a Muslim to death, which in turn sparked a rampage by angry Muslims, while the police failed to act. At least 16 homes and properties of Christians were pillaged, some were torched, and a church was damaged during the violence.
There is a long-running tension between Christians and Muslims in areas like Minya over whether churches may appear in the village. It is possible, legally speaking, for Christians to get a permit for built churches. However, civilian mobs are liable to attack the building if one's house is thought of as an unlicenced or not-yet-licensed church, or if one is thought to be building a new church. Some Muslim villagers see churches as unclean. 
In 2016, Egyptian poet Fatima Naoot was convicted of "contempt of religion" and sentenced to three years in jail for a 2014 Facebook post criticising animal killing during Eid. Four Coptic Christian juveniles were convicted of "contempt of religion" the next month, with three of them sentenced to five years in prison.
Iraq and Syria
The consolidation of power in the hands of Shiite Islamists in Iraq since the overthrow of the Saddam Hussein regime has been to the detriment of Iraq's Assyrian and Armenian Christian communities. Friction between rival sects in Iraq has frequently resulted in violence being directed against Christians in the country. Consequently, there has been a flight of Christians from some areas to Europe and to the United States. Since 2003, hundreds of thousands of Christians have fled Iraq, such that the Christian population, which may have been as high as 1.4 million prior to the Iraq War, has dropped to 500,000, with numbers continuing to decline. Between 2003 and 2012 more than 70 churches were bombed. In 2007 Al Qaeda militants killed a young priest in Mosul, and in 2010 gunmen massacred 53 Assyrian Christians in a Baghdad church.
During the Syrian Civil War and the spillover into Iraq, persecution of Christians by ISIL and other militant groups has been ongoing. The Fall of Mosul and the Assyrian town of Qaraqosh in the 2014 ISIL advance in Iraq led to an estimated 100,000 Assyrian Christian civilians being displaced. After the fall of Mosul, ISIL demanded Assyrian Christians in the city to convert to Islam, pay tribute, or face execution. ISIL begun marking homes of Christian residents with the letter nūn for Nassarah ("Christian"). Thousands of Christians, Yazidis (the latter whom were given only the choice of conversion or death) and other, mostly Shi'a Muslims (whom ISIL consider to be apostates) have abandoned their homes and land. The destruction of cultural heritage by ISIL has included the Mosque of the Prophet Jonah, revered in all Abrahamic faiths.
In Jerusalem, there have been instances of Christian churches and monasteries being vandalized with spray-painted offensive remarks against Christianity, including death threats. These are believed to be price tag attacks by extremist settlers.
A number of Ultra-Orthodox/Haredi youth have reportedly spat at Christian clergymen. Archbishop Aris Shirvanian, of Jerusalem's Armenian Patriarchate, says he personally has been spat at about 50 times in the past 12 years. The Anti-Defamation League has called on the chief Rabbis to speak out against the interfaith assaults. Father Goosan, Chief Dragoman of the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem, stated that, "I know there are fanatical Haredi groups that don't represent the general public but it's still enraging. It all begins with education. It's the responsibility of these men's yeshiva heads to teach them not to behave this way". In January 2010, Christian leaders, Israeli Foreign ministry staff, representatives of the Jerusalem municipality and the Haredi community met to discuss inter-faith tolerance. The Haredi Community Tribunal of Justice published a statement condemning harassment of Christians, stating that it was a "desecration of God's name." Several events were planned in 2010 by the Orthodox Yedidya congregation to show solidarity with Christians and improve relations between the Haredi and Christian communities of Jerusalem.
In July 2012, a former member of the Knesset, Michael Ben-Ari, who supports Kahanism, videotaped himself tearing up a copy of the New Testament and throwing it in the trash. Ben-Ari referred to it as a "despicable book" that should be "in the dustbin of history". In response, the American Jewish Committee urged the Knesset to censure Ben-Ari, while a spokesman for Benjamin Netanyahu also condemned Ben-Ari's actions.
Palestinian Media Watch (PMW) reported that state-controlled Palestinian media frequently demonize religions like Judaism and Christianity. PMW translated into English a children's television program aired twice in 2012 it said featured a young girl saying Jews and Christians are "cowardly and despised."
In 2002, a mob of Palestinian Muslims burned Christian property in Ramallah. A dossier submitted in 2005 to Church leaders in Jerusalem listed 93 incidents of abuse alleged to have been committed against Palestinian Christians by Muslim extremists and 140 cases of gangs allegedly stealing Christian land in the West Bank. In May 2012 a group of 100 Muslims attacked Taybeh, a Christian village in the West Bank.
In 2007, the Gaza Strip had a tiny Christian minority of 2,500–3,000. The Hamas overthrow of the Palestinian Authority in Gaza during that year was accompanied by violent attacks against Christians and Christian holy sites by Islamic militants. A Catholic convent and Rosary Sisters school were ransacked, with some Christians blaming Hamas for the attack. In September 2007 Christian anxiety grew after an 80-year-old Christian woman was attacked in her Gaza home by a masked man who robbed her and called her an infidel. That attack was followed less than a month later by a deadly assault on the owner of the only Christian bookstore in Gaza City. Muslim extremists were implicated as being behind the incident. The library of the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) was bombed in 2008 by gunmen who, according to guards at the site, asked why the guards worked for "infidels."
In 2011, the Christian population of Gaza Strip was less than 1,400. A member of the Catholic faith told The Guardian he was stopped by a Hamas official and told to remove a wooden crucifix he was wearing.
The human rights advocacy group International Christian Concern (ICC) told the Christian Post that 35 Christian Ethiopians – men and women – were violently arrested in Jeddah in December 2011 while holding a prayer meeting in their home. The prisoners complained of being persecuted on account of their faith and of being pressured to convert to Islam, and the women reported undergoing a humiliating strip search. According to the ICC, one prisoner said, "The Muslim preacher [that was sent by officials to speak to the prisoners] vilified Christianity, denigrated the Bible and told us that Islam is the only true religion."
On 6 June 1992, the Fantoft Stave Church, a wooden structure originally built in 1150 in Fortun and moved to Bergen in 1883, was burnt down. At first the fire was attributed to lightning and electrical failure. In January 1993 Varg Vikernes, also known as "Count Grishnackh", was interviewed by a local journalist in his apartment decorated with 'Nazi paraphernalia, weapons and Satanic symbols'. Vikernes, at the time a proponent of White nationalism, social conservatism, survivalism and his Neo-völkisch ideology, declared that he wanted to blow up Blitz House and Nidaros Cathedral. He has publicly supported black metal fans burning down eight churches in Norway. He used a photo of the charred remnants of one church taken soon after the fire on his band Burzum's EP entitled Aske (Norwegian for ashes). Following his statement, the Norwegian authorities began to clamp down on black metal musicians.
In 1994, Vikernes was found guilty of murder, arson and possession of illegal weapons (including explosives) and given the maximum sentence under Norwegian law of 21 years in prison. He was released in 2009.
The following is a partial list of Norwegian Christian church arsons in 1992 by anti-Christian groups reported by English-language media sources:
- 23 May: Storetveit Church in Bergen.
- 6 June: Fantoft Stave Church in Bergen. Varg Vikernes was suspected of the crime, but denied this; he was not convicted.
- 1 August: Revheim Church in Stavanger.
- 21 August: Holmenkollen Chapel in Oslo.
- 1 September: Ormøya Church in Oslo.
- 13 September: Skjold Church in Vindafjord. Varg Vikernes and Samoth were convicted for this.
- October: Hauketo Church in Oslo.
- 24 December: Åsane Church in Bergen. Varg Vikernes and musician Jørn Inge Tunsberg were convicted for this.
- 25 December: a Methodist church in Sarpsborg. A firefighter was killed while fighting this fire.
Many attacks, arsons and acts of vandalism against churches in Russia are reported each year. The acts of vandalism are often accompanied by Satanic symbolism and graffiti. In many instances, icons and crosses are burned and vandalized, and swastikas and Satanic symbols are painted on the walls of the churches (while in other attacks on churches in Russia they can be understood as more simple robberies). Some of the attacks on the churches, such as the cutting down of crosses, appear to be conducted by groups organized online and by local youth.
In the 2011 UK Census, 59.5% of the population marked their religion as "Christian", making Christianity still the majority religion. Rowan Williams said in 2013 that Christians in the UK who feel "mildly uncomfortable" at "not being taken very seriously" or "being made fun of" in the UK should not compare themselves to minority groups facing "murderous hostility" in countries that lack freedom of religion.
Conservative politician Mark Pritchard has said that a "politically correct brigade" were causing, "Christianophobia". Keith Porteous Wood, of the National Secular Society, replied "Christians have absolutely nothing to complain about in this country", he cited the facts that 26 bishops sit in the House of Lords, that England has an established church, and added: "The head of state is a Christian, the prime minister is a Christian and almost all the cabinet are self-identified Christians. How on earth can anyone imagine that Christians are disadvantaged or pushed to the margins?" 
In 2007, a church building in Brighton was vandalised with anti-Christian graffiti by squatters.
The Foreign Missionary Society Act of 1962 put a limit on the number of churches constructed. Students in military training were forbidden from praying unlike Muslims.
An angry mob of Indigenous peoples destroyed the only Protestant church in the remote village of Chucarasi in the Bolivian Andes after beating a congregational elder unconscious. Villagers apparently attacked their Christian neighbors because they blamed them for a hail storm that damaged local crops.
The killing of the priest Faustino Gazziero in 2004. CNTV program The Comedy Club parodies of Jesus, the burning of the image of Our Lady of Mount Carmel (national Patroness), and the subsequent mock of the faithful's grief in a nationwide newspaper.
Since 2015, twelve churches have been burned in southern Chile, 10 Catholic ones and two Protestant ones. Attacks are supposedly from the Mapuche indigenous people, who are campaigning to reclaim ancestral lands, according to authorities.
"We are going to burn all churches." Thus declared the note left at the ruins of the Christian Union Evangelical church in Ercilla, Chile, after an arson attack on March 31, 2016.
Government regulations aimed at curbing the growth of Christian house churches in Cuba
Jay Scott Ballinger admitted to committing 30 to 50 church arson attacks in 11 states between 1994 and 1998. Ballinger, who describes himself as a Satanist, spray-painted an inverted cross on the steps of one church they burned, saying it was part of a Satanic ritual. Some American Atheists have run a series of billboard campaigns ridiculing Christmas in Times Square, in 2012 one read "Keep the merry! Dump the myth!" and in 2013 proclaimed "Who needs Christ during Christmas? Nobody". Secular humanist Chris Stedman criticized the campaign.
Christians in China have been detained, denied the protection of the laws, and ordered to refrain from religious activities outside of China's single official Protestant church.
Christians in Pakistan are a minority, making up 1.6% of the population, and religious minorities are frequently discriminated against. The Pakistan blasphemy law mandates that blasphemy of the Qur'an is to be punished. Critics of the laws say that Christians like Asia Bibi are sentenced to death with only hearsay for evidence of alleged blasphemy. At least a dozen Christians have been given death sentences, and half a dozen of them have been murdered after being accused of violating blasphemy laws. In 2005, 80 Christians were behind bars due to these laws.
Christians in Pakistan have been murdered in outbreaks of communal violence, such as the 2009 Gojra riots, and they have been targeted by militant groups, with the Peshawar church attack killing 75 Christians in Peshawar in 2013, and the Lahore church bombings killing 15 Christians in 2015. The campaign of violence by the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan has been described as a genocide.
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