The range of attacks on religious liberty around the world has drawn uneven amounts of attention and concern.
On the one hand, outrageous cases of persecution, such as a 14-year-old Christian girl in Pakistan who was imprisoned for allegedly violating that country’s severe anti-blasphemy laws, highlight the fact that many people risk even death for practicing their faith.
Religious rivalries and conflicts in Iraq, Egypt, Nigeria and elsewhere have led to violence and persecution as well, which many in the West understandably condemn.
The situation in Europe has become so worrisome that there are now organizations being formed to defend the faith in what once was the most Christian of continents.
But there are other threats to religious liberty that are not nearly as brutal, yet significant and relatively unremarked upon in the Western media. This is because such threats are in the West, including an increasingly hostile environment in Europe toward religious faith. Some of these threats reflect a fear of the foreign or are fueled by racism — hostility to Muslims or Jews or Sikhs, for example. As corrosive, however, is the hostility to expressions of Christian faith or Christian teachings that clash with secular prejudices or ideology.
The increasingly hostile environment for Christians is an emerging reality in the United States (where the Catholic Church is fighting efforts ranging from a federal mandate to force Catholic institutions to provide abortion-inducing drugs and other services to employees to state efforts to infringe on Catholic outreach to undocumented or illegal residents). But as contributing editor Emily Stimpson reports on Page 8 of this week’s issue, the situation in Europe has become so worrisome that there are now organizations being formed to defend the faith in what once was the most Christian of continents. Clashes over religious symbols, religious teachings, religious dress and religious speech are spreading. Martin Kugler, who with his wife, Gudrun, founded the Observatory on Intolerance and Discrimination Against Christians, runs one such organization that is defending the rights of Christians. He cites a range of actions taken across the European Union that suggest that ideological intolerance for Christian beliefs and Christian speech is on the rise.
It is one of the ironies of history that Europe, which has suffered from the clash of Christians as well as from anti-Semitism in its past — conflicts that in some ways contributed to the rise of secularism — is now the site of renewed hostility, this time between secularists and believers.
None of this necessarily comes as a surprise to Pope Benedict XVI who, before his election to the papacy, expressed concern about the direction of Europe on several occasions, including in a book called “Without Roots: The West, Relativism, Christianity and Islam,” with Marcello Pera.
In “Without Roots,” then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger traces a kind of “peculiar Western self-hatred” that has Europe turning on its Christian roots, often in the name of freedom of speech.
“Europe … is on a collision course with its own history,” the cardinal warned. “Often it voices an almost visceral denial of any possible public dimension for Christian values.”
Christians in Europe must defend their right to have a voice and a witness in the public square, but Pope Benedict also recognizes that Christians have at times failed. Indeed, he instituted the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization in part to recognize that Europe itself is now mission territory, where Catholics must be joyful witnesses of the Gospel rather than nostalgic for past eras.
Editorial Board: Greg Erlandson, publisher; Msgr. Owen F. Campion, associate publisher; Beth McNamara, editorial director; John Norton, editor; Sarah Hayes, presentation editor