The Chinese Communist Party’s heinous persecution of its Uyghur population has deservedly received attention around the world. But the oppression of the Uyghurs is part of an even broader pattern, as religious freedom is under attack not only in China but especially since the pandemic, throughout much of the rest of the globe as well.
Indeed, as governments everywhere have become accustomed to the unprecedented new powers they asserted in the name of fighting the coronavirus, it is increasingly apparent that religious liberty is more in danger today than at any time in generations.
In China, the Communist Party has become ever more intolerant not only of the country’s Uyghur minority but of Christianity as well. Chinese officials recently arrested the Roman Catholic Bishop of the Xinjiang Apostolic Prefecture along with seven priests and ten seminarians. Their crime: failing to register with the Communist Party. For almost half a century, the Chinese Communist Party has insisted on appointing Bishops in China, a practice never recognized by the Vatican. The arrested bishop, Joseph Xhang Weizhu, was ordained in secret in 1991. The Chinese Communist Party did not approve of his appointment, and they have consequently arrested Bishop Weizhu on multiple previous occasions. Likewise, the Xinjiang Diocese has also never been recognized by the Chinese government and is part of the Underground Catholic Church.
Sadly, the world has come to expect this kind of arbitrary oppression of religion in communist nations.
But in a relatively new development, people of faith are now facing similar—though obviously less brutally oppressive—violations of religious freedom in democracies such as Canada and the United States.
Last month, authorities in Calgary arrested Pastor Artur Pawlowski for the crime of organizing an “illegal in-person gathering.” The gathering was a church service.
Throughout the pandemic, we have seen governments use the coronavirus as a rationale to prevent believers from assembling to worship God.
In March of 2020, California deemed all in-service religious activities non-essential. This made any in-service religious activity illegal. That was the law until the Supreme Court ruled against the state of California in favor of religious freedom on February 5, 2021. In other words, the largest state in America instituted a prohibition on all religious gatherings for almost an entire year—and there was virtually no outcry from the media.
Before COVID, it would have been unthinkable for the citizens of western democracy to have to ask the state’s permission to hold a worship service. But as the events of the past year have shown, it was not only a virus that the pandemic brought from China, but new forms of state control as well.
Unfortunately, with COVID-19 restrictions abating, the attacks on religious liberty are still escalating.
Last week, a Catholic Pastor in La Crosse, Wisconsin, Father Altman, was asked to resign after having spoken out against the government’s restrictions to freedom of worship—which he considered an intrusion into the sanctuary that limited Catholics’ ability to share in communion and administer the Sacraments.
Father Altman had also spoken out against abortion and argued that marriage should be between one man and one woman. Even though Father Altman’s parish was flourishing, increasing in the number of registered parishioners and financial collections over the last year, officials in the Catholic diocese seemingly caved to political pressure to silence Father Altman’s voice.
As these and innumerable other examples make clear, religious belief is now under a sustained assault on two different fronts—the threat of communism in the east and that of secular progressivism throughout the western world.
From the atrocious crimes against humanity committed daily against Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang to the unjust arrest of Catholics serving in the Underground Church in China to the harsh and unjustified suppression of believers in Canada and even Wisconsin, a new anti-religious animus is rising around the world.
The courageous examples of Bishop Weizhu, Pastor Pawlowski, and Father Altman, who have met these threats to their faith with unbroken resolve, should inspire believers everywhere to renew their commitment to living by the dictates of their conscience—and standing up for others’ rights to do the same.
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