By Dr. Augusto Zimmermann
The Pew Research Centre Report, which analyses religious freedom in 198 countries and territories, reveals that Christians are the most persecuted religious group in the world today, with significant levels of persecution in 144 countries, according according to 2016 data.
Every month, an average 345 Christians are killed for faith-related reasons, and 105 churches and other Christian buildings are burned or attacked. Worldwide, one out of nine Christians experiences high levels of persecution.
While North Korea is rated the most dangerous country for Christians, they are also targeted by Islamic extremists in countries like Pakistan, Iran, and Nigeria—and by communist regimes in China and North Korea.
Islamic oppression is behind the persecution of Christians in eight of the 10 worst countries. In Muslim-majority countries, Christians are discriminated against for jobs, violently attacked, or even killed. Their persecution is not only more prevalent in Muslim-majority countries, but it also generally occurs at a more severe level.
And it is not just radical Muslims attacking Christians. Hindu nationalists in India frequently assault Christians, usually with no consequences from official authorities. And in the officially atheistic communist-controlled nation of China, there is an increasing hostility toward Christians. Vietnam has also stepped up its persecution of Christians in recent years.
But is intolerance of Christians slowly creeping into ‘Western societies’ such as Australia?
Christianity is both poorly understood and considered negatively by many Australians. The last census indicates that more than a quarter of all Australians (26 percent) have a negative view of Christianity. Those who proclaim allegiance to Christianity have been facing an increasingly hostile environment.
Here in Australia we see a subtle persecution of Christians. For example, if an Australian believes in the teachings of the Bible and says so publicly, he or she should be prepared to be mocked and ridiculed by many, including some of our own political leaders. And if a Christian school upholds social beliefs based on traditional Christian values, this school might be denied government funding and be accused of breaching anti-discrimination laws.
Thus in Australia we have seen an employee dismissed for her temerity in opposing gay marriage via her private Facebook account; a rugby player being fired for posting also on Facebook a controversial passage in Scripture which condemns the practice of homosexuality; and a Christian has faced criminal convictions under exclusion zone laws for a simple act of handing a piece of paper presenting the Christian perspective about the sanctity of human life.
These are only a few examples of persecution of Christians, and numerous others could be given. Indeed, a considerable number of Australians believe that the rise of anti-Christian sentiment is a particularly serious concern that requires a more serious consideration.
As noted by Dr. Kevin Donnelly, a senior fellow at the Australian Catholic University, the hostility to Christianity in Australia is deeply pervasive not only in our schools and universities, but also in the mainstream media, where, according to him, “most commentators are cultural-left and more concerned about identity politics and politically correct victimhood than the plight of Christians.”
This growing intolerance of Christians in Australia has spurred lawyers and groups such as the Australian Christian Lobby and the Human Rights Law Alliance to put together a conference on religious freedom that will be held in the city of Perth, Western Australia, for June 14-15, 2019.
The ‘Religious Freedom at the Crossroads: The Rise of Anti-Christian Sentiment in Australia’ conference will be the first event of its kind in Australia, bringing together some the country’s finest legal minds. Conference proceedings will be published in The Western Australian Jurist law journal, the yearly blind peer-reviewed academic publication of the Western Australian Legal Theory Association (WALTA).
The list of conference speakers is undoubtedly impressive. One of our speakers, Martyn Iles, is Managing Director of the Australian Christian Lobby, one of Australia’s largest lobby groups, desiring a more compassionate society through having the public contributions of the Christian faith reflected in the political life of the nation.
Mr Iles is formerly the founding Director of the Human Rights Law Alliance, an organisation that protects religious freedom through legal advocacy. The Alliance’s new managing director, John Steenhof, is also a speaker for the conference. This is the first human-rights organisation of its kind in Australia and has recently been involved in dozens of cases where individuals or organisations were legally challenged for living out their religious convictions.
Participating as moderator is John Gilmor QC, a renowned barrister and former Australian federal judge. Some of the most distinguished members, both past and present, of the Western Australian Parliament, including former speaker Michael Sutherland, are also moderators for this deeply significant event.
Our keynote speaker is none other than a leading American constitutional lawyer—the Distinguished Professor Emeritus William Wagner of Western Michigan University, Thomas Cooley Law School. His public service includes serving as a Federal judge in the United States Courts, legal counsel in the U.S. Senate, senior assistant United States attorney in the Department of Justice, and as an American diplomat.
Anyone interested in the protection of human rights for all should definitely consider attending this timely and important conference. It might seem counterintuitive that Christians are facing persecution in a country like Australia, but there are no geographical limitations when it comes to hate of Christians.
It is time we stand up for free speech and freedom of association, thus rejecting all violence and persecution of Christians because of their religious faith and beliefs. It’s time to uphold the principle of religious freedom, ensuring that it also applies to Christians.
To know more about ‘Religious Freedom at Crossroads: The Rise of Anti-Christian Sentiment in the West’, visit the conference website.
Dr. Augusto Zimmermann LLB, LLM, PhD is Professor and Head of Law at Sheridan College in Perth, Western Australia, and Professor of Law (Adjunct) at the University of Notre Dame Australia, Sydney campus. He is also President of the Western Australian Legal Theory Association (WALTA), Editor-in-Chief of the Western Australian Jurist law journal, and a former Commissioner with the Law Reform Commission of Western Australia (2012-2017). Dr. Zimmermann is also the recipient of the Vice-Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Research (Murdoch University, 2012). Dr. Zimmermann is the author of a 3-volume collection on the ‘Christian Foundations of the Common Law’, edited by Connor Court between May and October 2018.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.