From China and Iraq to Nigeria and North Korea, religious persecution remains a scourge well into the 21st century. Guaranteeing freedom of faith for all is a moral imperative, and would strengthen peace and stability worldwide.
According to one report, last year at least 360 million Christians experienced “high levels of persecution and discrimination.” Worldwide, 13 Christians are killed every day because of their faith, and 12 churches or Christian buildings on average are attacked. Muslims, Jews, Baha’i, Yazidis, Ahmadis, Hazara, Humanists and many others suffer in communities that show no respect for what the sadly deceased British Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks described as “the dignity of difference.”
Religious liberty is a cause that came looking for me, rather than the other way around. Of course, my own background, upbringing and subsequent role as a political representative helped opened my eyes to prejudice and persecution. One could hardly attend a grammar school named for Edmund Campion – or walk every day through Westminster Hall, where the Jesuit priest and Thomas More stood trial before being executed – and remain unaware of the kind of price paid over 400 years ago for one’s faith. “The king’s good servant, but God’s first,” as More insisted.
That this wasn’t just history came home to me in 1979, not long after entering the House of Commons, when I was approached by Danny Smith, a man working to free seven Siberian Pentecostal Christians who had taken refuge in the American Embassy in Moscow. It took five years – and interventions from Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and Pope John Paul II – before they were allowed to leave the Soviet Union.