Liberal MP John McKay

We ignore religious freedom ‘at our own peril’

  • May 15, 2024

Different kinds of persecution are top of mind in political and media circles, but what receives little attention is Christian persecution, said John McKay.

The Liberal MP, commenting on the 2024 edition of World Watch List, a report produced by Open Doors, an international NGO that supports oppressed Christians, said it’s a topic that is largely under the radar.

“Freedom of religion or belief gets short shrift, even though it’s a fundamental human right,” McKay told The Catholic Register. “We talk a lot about discrimination based on race, ethnicity and other factors, but there isn’t much focus on religious discrimination.”

The report highlights the rising trend that sees 365 million Christians around the world oppressed and often targeted for discrimination and violence for their religious beliefs.

One section sheds light on the double impact of persecution on Christian women who are attacked both for their religion and their gender. It states that during attacks on Christian communities, women and girls are raped or sexually assaulted, while husbands and boys are killed. This happens in many sub-Saharan African countries but also in the Middle East and Asia, in particular, Myanmar. 

McKay, who co-hosted the report’s launch in parliament with Conservative MP Kelly Block, noted there is a tendency to neglect Christian persecution.

“Western nations live in a post-Christian culture and there is less personal interest in Christian persecution, so it goes under the radar and is ignored,” he said. “We are more concerned about other religions than Christianity.”

McKay and Block called for more action by the Canadian government to combat global Christian persecution.

“We ignore religious freedom at our own peril,” McKay said. “An example would be the Russia-Ukraine war. If we don’t understand the religious dimension, we are more apt to make policy mistakes.”

Block and McKay called for the restoration of the office of Ambassador for International Religious Freedom, held by Rev. Andrew Bennett from 2013 to 2016. It was abolished by the Liberal government in 2016. The ambassador had an important role and was mandated to give informed advice to the government on how to formulate foreign policy by viewing it through a freedom of religion or belief lens, said McKay.

Block said the Conservative Party’s policy declaration statement calls for the restoration of the Office of Religious Freedom. 

“The findings of World Watch List 2024 are grim,” emphasized Gary Stagg, executive director of Open Doors, which promotes freedom of religion or belief in more than 70 nations. “Global Christian persecution is on the rise, with growing attacks on churches in China, India, Nigeria, Nicaragua, Ethiopia and sub-Saharan Africa.” 

The report states that the number of attacks on churches and other public Christian properties was “an astonishing 14,129” during the reporting period.

“Open Doors only records verifiable incidents,” Stagg said. “So, these numbers are just the tip of the iceberg. About 365 million Christians around the world are experiencing some form of persecution.

“We are building something in Canada towards helping persecuted minorities. But we need to do more to address Christian persecution.”

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