U.S. urged to be more vigorous in protecting religious freedom globally

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WASHINGTON — A U.S. congressman told attendees at a Washington summit on Christian persecution that "more than ever before, vigorous U.S. leadership and diplomacy are needed to address religious freedom violations globally."

"Religious persecution is festering and exploding around the world. What has been unconscionable for decades, centuries, has gotten worse," Rep. Chris Smith, R-New Jersey, said May 12 in remarks at the World Summit in Defense of Persecuted Christians.

The summit May 10-13 was convened by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, and drew several hundred religious leaders and victims of Christian persecution from around the world.

A conference held a month before in Washington, titled "Under Caesar's Sword," had "underscored the fact that Christians are the most persecuted religious community globally," Smith said. In conjunction with that conference, a report detailed the nature of persecution against Christians in different nations across the globe.

"In many countries, Christians suffer genocide and face an existential threat," Smith said. "For many believers, refusal to renounce Jesus Christ means martyrdom, rape, torture and pain."

Smith recalled that 37 years ago in his first term in Congress, he was moved to tears by reading a book titled "Tortured for Christ" by a Romanian Christian pastor, Richard Wurmbrand, who also was the founder of the Voice of the Martyrs.

"As so many of you know, it is the true story of unspeakable physical torture and psychological abuse of underground Christians under Romania's dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and Pastor Wurmbrand's harrowing 14-year incarceration," he said. "Sabina, his brave wife, also suffered prison and forced labor for her faith.

"Like so many, I was inspired by Pastor Wurmbrand's indomitable faith, breathtaking courage and hope and challenged by his admonishment to believers to cease enabling evil by our naivete, coldhearted indifference or cowardly complicity," Smith added.

Last December, Smith visited Christian survivors of Islamic State genocide in Irbil and to press the U.S. and United Nations to help them.

"We then sat with Christians and heard stories of ISIS atrocities, the desecration of churches, the crucifixions of young men who refused to join ISIS, and the sexual slavery forced on some young Christian girls," Smith said. "We also heard stories of hope, faith and charity — and joined in prayers for the persecuted and those who persecute."

The Archdiocese of Irbil has been sustaining the survivors with medical care, food and shelter, and also assisting Yezidis and Muslims who escaped ISIS, Smith said. At that point not "a single penny" in aid had been offered by the U.S. and U.N. humanitarian agencies — despite Smith chairing nine congressional hearings about it, he said.

Help also was forthcoming from the Aid to the Church in Need, the Knights of Columbus and other U.S. and European charities.

Since his trip, Smith reported, U.S. and U.N. representatives have visited these refugees and "have promised aid and protection."

He said tools embedded in laws such as the Frank Wolf International Religious Freedom Act "need to be rigorously utilized" by the United States to respond to this crisis.

President Barack Obama Dec. 16 signed the bipartisan measure, which was written by Smith and co-sponsored by Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-California. It gave the Obama administration and now the Trump administration and the U.S. State Department new tools, resources and training to counter extremism and combat a worldwide escalation of persecution of religious minorities.

It will improve U.S. religious freedom diplomacy efforts globally; better train and equip diplomats to counter extremism; address anti-Semitism and religious persecution and mitigate sectarian conflict. 

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