20th October, 2012
STEFAN J BOS
At least 200 million Christians suffer discrimination and persecution worldwide, including in European Union countries such as Hungary, which now has Europe's "most restrictive" church registration law, according to a new report obtained by BosNewsLife.
The Religious Freedom in the World Report 2012, released by the Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) relief and advocacy group, also noted "growing concern" about perceived anti-religious developments in Western EU states Britain, Spain and the Netherlands.
PICTURE: Joris Van Ostaeyen/www.istockphoto.com
"Increasingly there are attempts in these countries to impose an extreme form of secularism that excludes the role of religion in public life."
"Increasingly there are attempts in these countries to impose an extreme form of secularism that excludes the role of religion in public life," said Peter Sefton-Williams, chairman of the report's editorial board.
"While these developments can't be called religious persecution (yet),they are part of a worrisome tendency," he added.
Within the former Communist nations of the EU, the report singled out Hungary as having the "most restrictive" church legislation "at a European level, as far as registration procedures are concerned."
It noted that, "For this fact alone, it has come under criticism, especially from Protestant circles."
The recently adopted law on 'The right of freedom of conscience and religion and the status of Churches, religions and religious communities' removed the legal status from some 300 minority religious organisations and communities.
Just 14 denominations and religious groups have been recognised as churches under the centre-right government of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who has been criticised for allegedly undermining previously independent institutions ranging from churches and media to the Central Bank.
ACN'S religious freedom report came after the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, sent questions about Hungary’s legislation to the government, as part of a court case launched by 17 groups who lost their church status under the law.
Hungary's government has defended the legislation saying it is aimed at those 'misusing tax systems, but critics claim many church programs aimed at impoverished Roma, or gypsies, and other minorities are under threat.
Elsewhere in Eastern Europe, ACN also expressed concerns about the former Soviet Union, including Russia and neighboring Belarus, where evangelical church services have been raided and several believers detained.
The report acknowledged, however, that most persecution still happens in Asia, the Middle East and Africa, citing especially cases in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Nigeria.
"This study shows that the situation of Christians is especially difficult in countries that have a state religion mentioned in their legislation. That does not allow space for other faiths," explained ACN's Netherlands-based branch 'Kerk in Nood' (Church in Need) in comments to BosNewsLife.
Additionally, the fundamental right to choose a religion and openly expressing faith is under pressure around the world, the report said.
ACN mentioned as examples controversial blasphemy laws in Pakistan, Islamic militants threatening Christians and other non-Muslims in Kenya, Mali, Nigeria and Chad as well as anti-conversion legislation in several Indian states.
Yet the religious freedom report, which appears every two years, also noted some "positive developments, including religious freedom resolutions adopted by the European Parliament.
Writers of the report investigated the situation of Christians in some 196 nations.
"Christians of several backgrounds are not the only people who are oppressed, but worldwide they are they are the most discriminated and persecuted group because of their faith," said Church in Need which sent the religious freedom report to BosNewsLife.